BY JENNIFER LEE, JANELLE WONG, KARTHICK RAMAKRISHNAN, AND RYAN VINH

Affirmative action is on the Supreme Court’s docket for the fall, with a decision projected for the spring or summer of 2023. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) has filed lawsuits against both Harvard and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, alleging that both universities consider race in their admissions decisions in unlawful ways that harm Asian American applicants at Harvard and both Asian American and white applicants at UNC. The plaintiffs have painted Asian Americans as ardent opponents of affirmative action, but new survey data cast empirical doubt on this narrative.

Based on the Asian American Voter Surveys of 2014-2022, the majority of Asian American registered voters, interviewed in English as well as Asian languages, continue to support affirmative action in university admissions.

Do you favor or oppose affirmative action programs designed to help Black people, women, and other minorities get better access to higher education? (Data from 1564 respondents) Korean: favor (82%), oppose (13%), don't know (6%). Indian: favor (80%), oppose (11%), don't know (10%). Asian American overall: favor (69%), oppose (19%), don't know (11%). Filipino: favor (67%), oppose (24%), don't know (9%). Vietnamese: favor (67%), oppose (17%), don't know (16%). Japanese: favor (65%), oppose (23%), don't know (12%). Chinese: favor (59%), oppose (26%), don't know (15%)

  1. 69% of Asian American registered voters surveyed favor affirmative action. In 2022, Asian American registered voters favor “affirmative action policies designed to help Black people, women, and other minorities gain better access to higher education.” By more than a 3-to-1 margin, Asian Americans favor affirmative action in higher education, and their support for the policy has remained consistent since 2014.
  2. All Asian groups are more likely to favor affirmative action than oppose it. While there is variation in support among Asian Americans, the six Asian groups surveyed—who account for 84% of the U.S. Asian adult citizen population[1]—are more likely to favor than oppose the policy. Support is highest among Korean and Indian Americans, with 82% and 80% supporting affirmative action in university admissions, respectively, and lowest for Chinese Americans.
  3. Chinese Americans support affirmative action by a margin of more than 2-to-1. While Chinese Americans are least likely to support affirmative action among the Asian groups surveyed, nearly three-fifths (59%) of Chinese support the policy. Critically, support for affirmative action among Chinese Americans has increased since 2020.
  4. Regional support for affirmative action is high in the Northeast and South. Support also holds in the regions where Harvard and UNC are located: 68% of Asian American registered voters in the Northeast, and 67% in the South favor affirmative action in university admissions.

THE TAKEAWAY

Asian American Support for Affirmative Action: 2014 - 2022. Asian American average: 2014 (70%), 2016 (64%), 2018 (66%), 2020 (70%), 2022 (69%). Chinese American average: 2014 (63%), 2016 (41%), 2018 (64%), 2020 (56%), 2022 (59%)

In spite of racially charged campaigns by opponents of affirmative action that have portrayed Asian Americans as adversaries, a strong majority of Asian American registered voters supports the policy in university admissions. Moreover, Asian American support has remained stable and high for nearly a decade. If the Supreme Court  chooses to overturn over 40 years of precedent by outlawing the consideration of race in university admissions, such a decision would be at odds with the consistent position of a majority of Asian American voters.

[1] Percentages are based on estimates from the 5-Year 2020 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata for the Asian alone population.