Affirmative action programs have spread rapidly across
In fact, a recent study by the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro found that 70 percent of
But outside of the media limelight, what does the average Brazilian think? New data from the 2010 round of the AmericasBarometer surveys by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) provide a window on ordinary Brazilians’ views.
The most salient finding is the high level of support for affirmative action when respondents were asked if it’s fair for public universities to reserve spaces for Afro-descendants (people who are black or mulatto). [See Figure.] Nearly half of Brazilians strongly agree that reserving university spots for blacks and mulattoes is fair, and more than two-thirds are at least somewhat favorable to this statement (represented by a score of 5, 6 or 7). At the same time one in every six Brazilians is strongly opposed to affirmative action.
This high level of support is striking. But two points should be noted. First, access to higher education is outside the reach of most Brazilians, black or white. The average Brazilian might be more magnanimous with a university slot that he or she has little hope of accessing in any case than with something closer to home. Second, the research does not directly address the hidden trade-off, namely that a slot given to an Afro-Brazilian will likely mean one less space for a white applicant.
What explains the extent to which individual Brazilians agree or disagree with university quotas for Afro-descendants?
A university education (compared to having a primary education or lower) is the single strongest predictor of attitudes on this issue. The university-educated disagree much more strongly with the statement that university quotas are fair than respondents of any other educational group. The conclusion: Brazilians who are already university educated are most likely to perceive affirmative action as at best unnecessary and at worst a threat to the future educational advancement of their own children and social network members, who would presumably have access to higher education without such programs.
Furthermore, those with secondary educations also have significantly lower support for affirmative action than do those at lower educational levels. This means that the strongest opposition to affirmative action in education comes from those who are already benefiting from (or have benefited from) the system prior to the introduction of affirmative action. And income is also a significant predictor; as Brazilians' incomes increase, they become more negative regarding university quotas for blacks.