Originally created 11/07/97

Preferences & polls

The U.S. Supreme Court's laudable refusal to review a challenge to California voters' ban on race and gender preferences in state hiring, education and contracting will encourage similar efforts in other states.

It's ironic that, just days before the High Court took a pass on overturning the California anti-discrimination law, a Georgia House Judiciary subcommittee held public hearings on a bill designed to end all state government race and gender-based preferences.

The hearings were preceded by a highly-hyped news conference in which preference advocates issued a poll purporting to show that a whopping 67 percent of Georgians approve of "affirmative action" admissions policies for public colleges. The "majority" included 60 percent of whites and even 55 percent Republicans.

"This poll shows the public is keenly aware of the negative effects of eliminating affirmative action, particularly in higher education," exulted a Georgia Rural Urban Summit spokesman.

In fact, all it shows is the public should always be suspicious of polls -- especially those by advocacy groups. Clever pollsters frame questions to elicit the desired responses. Here's the exact poll question asked of just 500 Georgia voters:

"Some of Georgia's 34 public colleges and universities like the University of Georgia have affirmative action programs that are designed to overcome the effects of discrimination against women and minorities. Another goal of these programs is to promote racial and ethnic diversity among college teachers and students. Do you approve of or disapprove of these programs?"

Most interviewees likely responded to the second part of the question. Americans are a diverse lot. But what's that got to do with admission policies?

For those who did refer back to the first part, the question is muddled. It uses the phrase "affirmative action programs," but there's no hint in government parlance that it means group preferences.

A more honest, objective polling question would ask simply: Should Georgia's colleges and universities have a quota system for minorities and women who fail to meet established academic standards for admission?

We bet the response to such a poll would be at least 67 percent No -- and include majorities of all races and both genders. But in light of federal court rulings, shouldn't Georgia (and South Carolina) lawmakers simply move ahead and strike down group preference policies before the courts do it for them?


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