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Survey: Michigan Public Evenly Divided on Affirmative Action Proposal

Survey: Michigan Public Evenly Divided on Affirmative Action Proposal

      Support has eroded for a proposal to ban affirmative action in government hiring and university admissions in Michigan, according to results of a statewide poll released last week.

      Forty-seven percent of 600 likely voters surveyed opposed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which will be on the ballot in the November election. Forty-four percent favored it, while 9 percent were undecided.

      Because the poll’s margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points, the 3-point difference means that the contest was about even.

      Even so, the numbers represent a big setback for the proposal, which drew 64 percent support — 20 points more than the latest poll — in a similar survey nearly two years ago, according to Ed Sarpolus of EPIC/MRA, the company that performed both surveys. Last December, 53 percent were in favor and 32 percent were opposed.

      “This is the first time in two years the Civil Rights Initiative is below 50 percent,” Sarpolus says. “It’s an amazing change.”

      Opponents of affirmative action circulated petitions seeking the ballot initiative after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the University of Michigan Law School could consider race to create a diverse student population.

      Critics contend the initiative’s early popularity was due largely to its name, which they say was deceptive and didn’t make clear its goal was to restrict affirmative action. Leaders of the initiative denied the charge.

      David Waymire, spokesman for an opposition group called One United Michigan, said the latest EPIC/MRA poll was the first he knew of that asked voters about the initiative using language that will appear on the ballot.

      “There has never been an issue where words mean so much,” he says.

      Jennifer Gratz, executive director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, says the poll was “an anomaly.”

      “Credible poll after credible poll has shown that Michigan voters by a nearly 2-to-1 margin support” the initiative’s goals, Gratz says. “I’m still confident that when voters go into the booth and are asked if they want to do away with using race as a factor, the overwhelming answer will be yes.”

      Increased media attention and opposition from industry and government leaders have hurt the initiative, Sarpolus says.

      “Every major political figure in the state and the major manufacturers and businesses have come out against it,” he says. “People who are looking to say ‘I’m for it’ can’t find any friends.”

      Gratz says the organized opposition represents “the elite establishment — big government, big business. They’re completely disconnected from the general public.”

      Waymire countered that his coalition represented a cross-section of Michigan society, including labor, civil rights groups, business, the elderly and civic activists.

      “People are understanding that these equal opportunity programs help women as well as minorities,” he says. “They’re surprised when they understand the strange and bizarre consequences of the proposal.”

      — Associated Press

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