Americans' top-of-mind reactions to the term affirmative action are generally positive. Gallup asks a straightforward question about affirmative action without a definition or explanation -- "Do you generally favor or oppose affirmative action programs for racial minorities?" -- and as of Gallup's last asking in 2018, 61% of Americans were in favor, while 30% were opposed. Support has increased from the range of 47% to 50% who were in favor in 2001, 2003 and 2005, and from a slightly higher 54% in 2016.
Despite this majority consensus for the general concept of affirmative action and the need for more action on reducing racial inequities, public support appears significantly lower when questions ask about policies that explicitly take race into account to achieve these objectives.
As noted, Pew Research in 2019 found broad support for the importance of the concept of promoting racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace, but also found significant disagreement with the concept of using racial accounting as a means to accomplish that objective. Pew's question: "When it comes to decisions about hiring and promotions, do you think companies and organizations should take a person's race and ethnicity into account, in addition to their qualifications, in order to increase diversity in the workplace (or) should only take a person's qualifications into account, even if it results in less diversity in the workplace?" The results: 74% chose the latter alternative.
A trend question last asked by the NORC General Social Survey in 2018 focuses on the same idea:Some people say that because of past discrimination, blacks should be given preference in hiring and promotion. Others say that such preference in hiring and promotion of blacks is wrong because it discriminates against whites. What about your opinion -- are you for or against preferential hiring and promotion of blacks?The results show that 72% of U.S. adults oppose giving preference to Black Americans in hiring and promotion, including 43% who say they oppose strongly.
IF FAVORS: A. Do you favor preference in hiring and promotion strongly or not strongly?
IF OPPOSES: B. Do you oppose preference in hiring and promotion strongly or not strongly?
These attitudes were measured prior to the increased focus on race relations over the past several months since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It is possible attitudes have changed in today's environment. But these results highlight the complexities of public opinion when considerations of affirmative action get down to specifics.