Affirmative action may be dying the death of a thousand cuts, but don’t tell Californians that. A new poll by the National Asian American Survey released Thursday suggests that in the Golden State, support for race-conscious admissions and hiring policies is actually greater today than it was 20 years ago.
The Field Poll data (PDF) also complicates the narrative in the ongoing saga around affirmative action in California after ad hoc groups of Chinese-Americans in California torpedoed an attempt to reverse a nearly two-decade ban on affirmative action this spring.
When asked, “Do you favor or oppose affirmative action programs designed to help blacks, women, and other minorities get better jobs and education?” in August 2014, 65.7 percent of 1,280 registered California voters said they supported affirmative action. Among Asian Americans, 69 percent were in favor, along with 57.3 percent of whites, 81.4 percent of Latinos and 83.1 percent of African Americans.
In 1996, California voters passed Prop 209, which banned race and sex-conscious admissions and hiring policies in public education, employment and contracting. That ballot initiative passed with 54.55 percent of the vote. At the time, 37 percent of white voters voted to protect affirmative action, along with 76 percent of Latino voters, 74 percent of African-American voters and 61 percent of Asian-American voters. In other words, says the National Asian American Survey, in the 18 years since, support for affirmative action in the state has actually grown.
As for that heated, and successful, campaign from Chinese-Americans to squash the revival of affirmative action this spring? “When you see a lot of activism on an issue you don’t know how representative it is,” says Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of political science at University of California, Riverside, and a co-author of the National Asian American Survey report. “Part of the disconnect is when you see hundreds of people protesting it seems like a groundswell, but in fact you have hundreds of thousands of other Asian-Americans that were not similarly moved, and we didn’t see them.”