RELEASE: New CAP Column Shows How California’s Proposition 16 Was Not A Bellwether on Affirmative Action

Washington, D.C. — California voters rejected Proposition 16, a ballot measure that would have repealed a ban on affirmative action in the state—but not because affirmative action is dead, according to a new column from the Center for American Progress. Instead, it’s more likely that unclear ballot language, a short window in which to persuade voters, and opposition from the majority of white voters contributed to the measure’s defeat. This means that proponents should not despair, and look to improving their methods of persuasion.

Admissions policies that address racial inequities remain critical in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is exacerbating social and racial disparities. The column argues that multiple routes remain for affirmative action to achieve its goal in the future, including through educating and targeting specific subgroups of voters, rethinking messaging, and engaging white voters more effectively. Polling in California showed that many voters were confused by the proposition’s language but supported its underlying goals. For example, among Latinx voters, favorability was 24 percentage points lower among those who understood Proposition 16 as keeping the status quo than it was among those who correctly recognized that it would reinstate affirmative action.

“Since race-neutral policies have proved not to lead to racial equity, colleges should consider race as a factor in admissions decisions, and states should not stop them from doing so,” said Marshall Anthony Jr., a senior policy analyst at CAP and co-author of the column. “The challenges of Proposition 16 show that achieving equal opportunity requires a shift in tactics and resources, not abandoning the ship.”

Lessons learned from exit polls on Proposition 16 will be important in the coming months as proponents recalibrate the path forward. Until then, advocates for racial equity in higher education should not be dissuaded by the results in California.

Click here to read “California Is Not a Bellwether on Affirmative Action” by Viviann Anguiano and Marshall Anthony Jr.

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