In Line, But Out of Step With Public?
A new poll out this morning from Quinnipiac University, shows Democratic presidential candidates decidedly out of the mainstream in their universal opposition to the Supreme Court's decision to limit how race can be used in public school assignments.
But are they really out of step?
In the June PBS presidential forum at Howard University, the Democratic candidates lined up against the court's decision to restrict school boards' use of race in specific school assignment. The high court ruling may severely limit efforts to make the nation's public schools more racially diverse, and the candidates used the verdict--announced the same day as the debate--to display their bona fides before the largely African American audience.
But in the new poll, 71 percent of registered voters said they agree with the court's ruling, only 24 percent said they disagree with it. Moreover, the poll reports majorities of Democrats (64 percent), Republicans (79 percent) and independents (71 percent) alike agreeing that "public schools may not consider an individual's race when deciding which students are assigned to specific schools."
Does this make the Democrats' firm opposition to the court's ruling tone-deaf, heroic or a pander to an important primary constituency? It might actually be none of the above.
A point on the polling is relevant here, especially when the topic is a Supreme Court decision that many might not have followed. In a July Pew poll, a majority, 53 percent, said they followed news about the case "not too" (19 percent) or "not at all" closely (34 percent). In cases such as this one, what goes into the question can go a long way to explaining the results.
Quinnipiac's question asked respondents whether race should be a factor in school assignments, and in the absence of a counterargument few said it should. Newsweek got an even more lopsided result with a similar question in a July poll. Without a reason to include race or mention of the likely implications of the court's ruling, it's natural that most Americans would opt not to consider race in school assignments, or anything else.
What we found in the most recent Post-ABC News national poll is that giving some context to the court's decision yielded more nuance and a different result.
In our poll, we included one primary criticism of the court's ruling, namely that the decision would be a setback for integration efforts. After all, the court's decision was by a razor thin 5-4 vote and a 2004 Time-CNN poll found that 82 percent said the 1954 Brown v. Board decision had been good for the U.S.
In the Post-ABC poll, 56 percent of all Americans disapproved of the court's ruling in the school race case; 40 percent approved. Republicans and independents were evenly split on the decision, while nearly seven in 10 Democrats were lined up against it.
Maybe the Democratic candidates aren't at odds with the public after all, especially the majority of Democrats in the country.
Of course, what and how much context to include in poll questions is a judgment call. It's also why we always release our questionnaires in full, so you can determine for yourself if we asked questions in a balanced way. Here's a link to the poll covering the Supreme Court (see question 43 for exacting wording). Quinnipiac does the same on their site.
Posted at 3:55 PM ET on Aug 16, 2007
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