Washington — Four in five Americans say it's important for colleges to have racially diverse student bodies, but only half think affirmative action still is needed to help blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, an Associated Press poll found.
Blacks and whites have dramatically different views about how to achieve diversity, says the poll, conducted for the AP by ICR/International Communications Research of Media, Pa. A slight majority in the overall poll think affirmative action programs still are necessary -- 51 percent to 43 percent. Among blacks, 89 percent think it's necessary.
About six in 10 young adults in the poll, from 18 to 34 years old, said affirmative action was still needed.
Thomas Robinson, a retired school administrator from Woodsfield, Ohio, offers a glimpse into the mixed emotions many whites have on the issue. He thinks the country has overcome much of the racism from past days but is not yet close to eliminating it.
But he does not support affirmative action.
"At one time it was needed, but I think it should be abolished," said Robinson, who has a carpentry business to help pay his bills. "Whites are losing out, because affirmative action bumps them out."
Affirmative action is getting its biggest legal test in a quarter-century, a challenge to admissions policies at the University of Michigan that is before the Supreme Court. The case will be argued April 1, with a decision expected by summer.
The case marks the court's first statement on racial preference programs in academic admissions since the 1978 Bakke case, which affirmative action critics and backers alike say has muddied the waters ever since.
In that case, the court voted 5-4 to outlaw racial quotas in university admissions, but left room for race to be a factor considered in admissions. Michigan and many other public universities have used the ruling to design programs that can help minorities who might be rejected if only test scores and grades were considered.
Most in the poll, 80 percent, said diverse student populations are important for colleges.