Colorblind Equality: A Winning Issue for McCain?

Does John McCain really want to win? His failure to come out forcefully for colorblind equality suggests that he might not, and that even if he does, he won’t.

National polls have consistently shown that substantial majorities oppose preferential treatment based on race. In five polls from 1977 through 1991, Gallup found that at no time did support for preferential treatment exceed 11%. Recent polls continue to find strong majority opposition.

• An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Jan. 2003, found that 65% opposed and 26% favored the “use [of] race as one of the factors in admissions to increase diversity” in colleges.

• A Gallup poll, June 2003, found that 69% of all respondents (75% of whites; 59% of Hispanics; 44% of blacks) opposed allowing race and ethnicity to be considered “to help promote diversity on college campuses."

• A Newsweek poll, July 2007, found that 82% of all adults (86% of whites, 75% of non-whites) disapproved of allowing race to be considered “as a factor in making decisions about employment and education."

• A Quinnipiac University poll, Aug. 2007, found that 71% agreed and 24% disagreed with the recent Supreme Court ruling “that public schools may not consider an individual’s race when deciding which students are assigned to specific schools."

• A Newsweek poll, May 2008, found that 72% disapprove and 21% approve of “giving preferences to blacks and other minorities in things like hirings, promotions, and college admissions.”

Nor is it necessary to rely on opinion surveys to plumb the depths of popular opposition to racial preferences. In the three states where voters have been given an opportunity to vote race preferences up or down — California, Washington, and most recently Michigan, all solid blue, liberal states — they have voted to write the “without regard” principle of colorblind equality into their state constitutions by substantial majorities.

Despite some rhetorical flourishes (more like feints) promising a new politics that would transcend race, Obama has never wavered (no flip-flop here!) in his support for policies that benefit some and burden others based on their race or ethnicity. In 2006 he even made an ad urging Michigan voters to oppose the principle of colorblind equality — fortunately to no avail: the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) passed with 58% of the vote, even as the Democratic candidates for governor and senator won landslide victories.