Utahns are split on the effectiveness and the necessity of affirmative action programs, a new poll shows.
In a KSL-Deseret News poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates, more than half of those questioned said affirmative action programs had made no difference in their lives. Ten percent said it helped while 11 percent said it hurt them.Those in the fray over whether to keep affirmative action programs often say the concept is misunderstood by the general public.
At least one advocate for Hispanics believes that's true.
"I'm inclined to think that most people don't (understand the programs)," said Jesse Soriano, co-chairman of the Governor's Hispanic Advisory Council. "They think they do, but they really haven't given a great deal of thought to the philosophy behind them."
Sandra Adams said the programs are not only misunderstood, they are misused.
"I don't think affirmative action has been used for what it was intended," said Adams, the ethnic health specialist for Utah Issues. "It's about economics, it's not about civil rights."
Slightly more than half of those polled said they do understandboth the programs and the philosophy behind them. Forty-four percent of those questioned said they don't understand either.
One misconception many people have, Soriano said, is that affirmative action programs take jobs from some people and give them to less-qualified minorities.
"Affirmative action was never meant to do somebody out of a job," he said. "Affirmative action was meant to open the door . . . to focus on the need for getting more minority candidates."
Not only are those candidates of color just as qualified, they often bring additional skills like language and an understanding of other cultures, he said.
Adams said perceptions that if minorities have jobs it's because of their ethnicity are discouraging.
"It's never been the law that you had to hire someone who was unqualified," she said.
About 60 percent of those polled said affirmative action is a good idea, but 36 percent said it had out-lived its usefulness and should be abandoned. Just 12 percent said it was a bad idea that should never have been tried, and 28 percent didn't know what to think of the controversial subject.
"We shouldn't start believing that minorities are at a place where they're getting equal treatment in the marketplace because they're not," Soriano said. "I owe a great deal to people who were thinking about affirmative action. These were nonminorities . . . who allowed me to do what I've done with my career."
Adams said she's turned a job down when told the color of her skin made a difference. The perceptions about affirmative action programs and minorities are disheartening, she said.
Adams believes there is still a need for affirmative action programs, but believes the country needs to be re-educated as to what the programs do, how they work and why they're necessary.
"It's about making sure everyone in this country is on a level playing field," Adams said.
Deseret News/KSL poll
Do your feel you understand how affirmative action works and the philosophy behind it?
DON'T KNOW 4%
From your personal experience, has affirmative action helped you, hurt you, or made no difference in your own life?
MADE NO DIFFERENCE 62%
BOTH HELPED AND HURT 2%
DON'T KNOW 15%
Which of the following best describes how you feel about affirmative action?
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IS A GOOD IDEA AND SHOULD BE CONTINUED 24%
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IS A GOOD IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS PASSED AND SHOULD NOW BE DISCONTINUED 36%
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IS A BAD IDEA THAT SHOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN TRIED 12%
DON'T KNOW 28%
Poll conducted July 29 - Aug. 1, 1995.
Margin of error +/-4% on interviews of 606 adults statewide. Conducted by Dan Jones & Associates.
1995 Deseret News.