The Volokh Conspiracy

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Proposition 16 Goes Down in 22 Million Dollars Worth of Flames

The vote was 56% NO/44% Yes.


Thank you to all Volokh Conspiracy readers who helped us defeat Proposition 16 in California by volunteering, contributing or voting!

The YES campaign supporters are now making excuses as to how they could have spent about $22 million (as against our pathetic $1.7 million) and still lost. Their claim is that voters were just confused. But that's nonsense. Polls have been consistent for decades. Whenever the issue is stated fairly and clearly, opposition to race and sex preferences is overwhelming. All the NO campaign had to do is make sure voters knew what the issue was.

In 2003, 2006, 2013, and 2016, the Gallup has asked the following question of poll respondents:

"Which comes closer to your view about evaluating students for admission into college or university—applicants should be admitted solely on the basis of merit, even if that results in few minority students being admitted (or) an applicant's racial or ethnic background should be considered to help promote diversity on college campuses, even if that means admitting some minority students who otherwise would not be admitted."

The responses were consistent: The number of respondents choosing "solely on merit" is always at least twice as great as the number choosing "help promote diversity." In 2016, it was 70% for "solely on merit" vs. 26% for considering racial or ethnic background.

Note that the question was posed so as to take account of the arguments on both sides. Respondents were alerted to the possibility that without considering race or ethnic background "few minority students" may be admitted. Note also that, if anything, the question is unfair to the "NO on 16" campaign, since most "NO" voters are willing to take into consideration things other than academic achievement (such as low income); they simply oppose using race or ethnicity as the measure of disadvantage.

In 2019, Pew Research conducted a similar poll that focused on employment instead of college admissions. Like the Gallup poll, the Pew poll gave respondents two choices:

"When it comes to decisions about hiring and promotions, companies and organizations should—

… Only take qualifications into account, even if it results in less diversity.

Or …

… Also take race and ethnicity into account in order to increase diversity."

The results were consistent with the Gallup poll: 74% chose "only take qualifications into account," while 24% chose "also take race and ethnicity into account."

This was not because respondents didn't see any value in racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace. When asked how important it is "for companies and organizations to promote racial and ethnic diversity in their workplace," 75% said it is either "very important" or "somewhat important." Only 24% said it was "not too important" or "not at all important." They did not, however, believe race or ethnicity should be taken into consideration in hiring or promotions.

Pew Research also undertook a poll on the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions in 2019. The results were similar to those in the Gallup poll, except they were a little more critical of considering race or ethnicity than the Gallup respondents. Among adults, 73% said race and ethnicity should not be a factor. Majorities of all races and ethnicities agreed. Only 26% of adults said they should be either a major (7%) or a minor (19%) factor.

No wonder Prop 16 failed.