abortion, affirmative action, college admissions, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, education, gender, higher education, Im-Politic, LGBTQ, minorities, polarization, politics, polls, public schools, race relations, social issues, Supreme Court
RealityChek regulars know that a theme to which I keep returning centers on intriguing evidence that Americans’ views on supposedly polarizing social issues aren’t nearly as polarized as the positions taken by activists on all sides. Indeed, the public’s views are a triumph of both common sense and a spirit of compromise that’s continually overlooked by the political class across the spectrum. (See, e.g., here on the overall national mood, and here on abortion – a subject of special interest lately given the Supreme Court’s June decision to reject the idea of a Constitutional right to privacy and therefore to abortion.)
So I’m pleased to report new findings of equally surprising and encouraging consensus on two other supposedly divisive wedge issues.
The first is affirmative action in higher education admissions, whose future (for the time being) will be decided by the Supreme Court beginning later this month, when cases challenging such racial preferences will be heard.
If the public opinion has anything to do with the final outcome, however, these programs will clearly be toast – at least according to research summarized in this Wall Street Journal column. As noted by the author, retired University of California, Santa Cruz literature professor John Ellis,
“A 2022 Pew Research Center poll found that 74% of Americans oppose the use of race in college admissions. Even more surprising, 68% of Hispanics, 63% of Asians and 59% of blacks also opposed it. The same applied to both political parties, with 87% of Republicans and 62% of Democrats objecting.”
Most stunningly, even the African Americans who are the main intended beneficiaries of race-influenced admissions policies now strongly oppose the practice – along with three-fourths of the entire country.
Further, Ellis cites referendum results showing that uber-liberal California is off the affirmative action boat, too.
The second set of findings concerns the emotionally fraught matter of whether subjects like gender identity, sexual orientation, gay rights, and trans rights should be taught to pre-college students, and whether such materials on these “LGBTQ” topics belong in these students’ assigned reading.
A national survey from the University of Southern California (brought to my attention in this Washington Post article) makes clear that Americans are strongly opposed to these subjects in elementary school education, but much more open to bringing them into high school classes.
Specifically, the share of respondents agreeing that primary school students should learn about these subjects was only between 28 and 30 percent. But roughly twice as many Americans were fine with including LGBTQ subjects in high school curricula.
Somewhat oddly (at least to me) support for assigning LGBTQ-themed books was a good deal lower for both grade school students (18 percent) and for high school students (38 percent).
All the same, though, a strong consensus view – and one that should make intuitive sense as a starting point for making policy – shines through: Little kids just aren’t ready to be exposed to new challenges to longstanding ideas about gender identity and such. High school students? Much more so.
Of course, as we learned earlier this year with the Supreme Court’s latest abortion ruling, the fact that the public has figured out pragmatic ways to view complex social issues (simply put, supporting a broad right to an abortion early-ish during pregnancies and increasing restrictions as the pregnancy proceeds) is no guarantee that American leaders will be able, or want to, agree.
But as I pointed out in the above-linked abortion post, a powerful lesson taught by U.S. history has been that the Supreme Court “is most successful when it pays attention to public opinion, and runs into its greatest troubles when it gets too far ahead of or too far behind these attitudes.” The same surely applies to elected politicians and activists. Let’s just hope that all of them can get with the common sense approaches favored by Americans before further inflammatory actions really do produce dangerous and lasting national divides.