Poll Supports NOW's Affirmative Action Position

by Melinda L. Shelton and Diane Minor

NOW President Patricia Ireland says a new poll on affirmative action arms NOW activists with data that confirms what they are already finding in the field -- widespread support for affirmative action.

"People support affirmative action when they correctly understand it to mean providing equal opportunities for women and minorities and not the so-called `special preferences' opponents claim," she said. "And people get very angry when they feel like they're being duped."

The poll supports not only NOW's substance, but its strategy on the issue.

"Our challenge is to uncover the lies of the right wing," she said. "They campaigned in 1994 on tax cuts and term limits only to unleash a war on poor women and children this spring. They say they want to end unfair preferences and forced quotas, when what they really want to end are equal opportunities and the kinds of goals even the Supreme Court has said are fair and workable."

Ireland predicts results of the the Women's Equality Poll -- particularly the strong support for affirmative action, abortion rights and women's rights, generally -- should fuel voter mobilization currently underway across the country.

"People are alarmed with what is going on in Congress and throughout the nation," she said. "We have already begun mobilizing voters and activists across the country. We believe this poll gives us the kind of boost we need now to really make a difference at the polls in '96."

In the poll conducted Mar. 16-April 3, 1995, by Peter Y. Harris Research Group, a cross-section of 1,364 adults was interviewed nationally, in addition to a cross-section of 800 adults in California. The poll, conducted for the Feminist Majority Foundation, is one of the most comprehensive of its kind both in the number of persons polled and in its focus on women's equality.

The poll thoroughly examines affirmative action, including questions based on both a literal reading of the proposed California initiative and its actual intent to eliminate affirmative action programs.

Participants first were asked if they favor or oppose the referendum as it is stated: "The state will not use race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin as a criterion for either discriminating against, or granting preferential treatment to, any individual or group in the operation of the state's system of public employment, public education, or public contracting." A vast majority of the respondents, 81 percent, say they favor the referendum as stated.

However, when pollsters asked participants if they still would favor the referendum if it eliminated affirmative action programs for women and minorities, support drops to only 29 percent in favor, and opposition increases to 58 percent.

Likewise, 71 percent of the survey participants support a woman's right to choose regarding abortion and 71 percent also support the movement to strengthen women's rights.

Such statistics prove "abortion and affirmative action are a very potent combination in politics," Ireland said, "and we will work to make them pivotal issues in the next election.

"Women's jobs are on the line, and people with little or no voice have become the targets of political bullies. But as statistics in this poll show, once given the facts, people do support affirmative action programs for women and people of color and they do support the women's movement and our work for equality in our society. We think we can convince these people that what they should not do is remain on the sidelines any longer."

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