May 30th, 2024 2 Minute Read Press Release

Study Finds Most Democrats Oppose Affirmative Action in Higher Education

A new analysis of survey data shows that even liberal voters are uncomfortable with race-conscious admissions policies that disadvantage Asian students

NEW YORK, NY — Last summer’s Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard (SFFA) effectively ended the nation’s controversial 45-year experiment with race-conscious admissions. But the ruling sparked further controversy. Since the decision, lawsuits challenging the use of race in admissions have proliferated, which will require lower courts to grapple with the implications of the ruling in different sectors and settings. Amid this new legal and political wrangling over the future of affirmative action, many progressives have sought to delegitimatize SFFA by smearing the decision as an example of conservative judicial activism and claiming that most Americans still support affirmative action.  

In a new Manhattan Institute issue brief, Paulson Policy Analyst Renu Mukherjee and Stanford Hoover Institution fellow Michael Hartney upend these misguided claims with evidence from two original survey experiments fielded on the 2022 Cooperative Election Study. Their findings include: 

  • 7 in 10 Americans say they oppose giving race-based admissions in higher education; 
  • Survey respondents who learned that affirmative action harmed Asian (rather than white) students grew more opposed to racial preferences in university admissions; 
  • Fewer than half of Democrats supported affirmative action when they learned that Asian students would be harmed, as opposed to 7 out of 10 Democrats who wanted to see racial preferences upheld when they believed these policies would only disadvantage white students; 
  • When respondents were asked to choose between an Asian or black applicant for medical school, most Americans chose the applicant with better academic qualifications, even if it came at the expense of maximizing racial diversity on campus. 

In sum, the authors find that despite progressive efforts to paint the Court as out of step with public opinion, the SFFA ruling affirms a growing consensus that academic merit should trump diversity in university admissions particularly when race-conscious admissions policies harm Asian students. 

Click here to view the full issue brief. 


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