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What Americans Think Should Matter In College Admissions

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

Fifty people have been indicted in the largest college admissions scam the Department of Justice has ever prosecuted, in which wealthy parents are accused of manipulating standardized-test scores and faking athletic accomplishments to get their children admitted to selective universities. In light of this news, we wanted to see what Americans think should matter in the college admissions process, so we looked at a Pew Research Center survey released last month that asked respondents to determine whether eight criteria should be “major” or “minor” factors in the college admissions process, or “not a factor” at all.

The top criterion Americans thought colleges should consider was high school grades — 67 percent said grades should be a major factor and another 26 percent said they should be a minor factor. Although some schools — including the University of Chicago and Wake Forest University — have stopped requiring standardized test scores as a part of the admissions process, 47 percent of respondents said performance on such exams should be a major consideration and 41 percent said it should be a minor one. (Americans were not asked whether scores should count less if, as the DOJ alleges, the applicants’ parents paid for someone else to take the exam.) Community service was rated the third most important factor — 21 percent of respondents said it should be a major factor and another 48 percent said it should be a minor factor.

Conversely, respondents in the Pew survey felt that athletics shouldn’t be a high-level consideration, which must be a disappointment for parents who, according to prosecutors, paid to make it look like coaches were recruiting their children. Just 8 percent of Americans said athletic ability should be a major factor in college admissions, while 34 percent thought it should be a minor consideration.

Outside of this scandal, the most controversial aspect of college admissions has historically been affirmative action. Americans have long shown a dislike for considering race and ethnicity in the college admissions process. The Pew survey was no different, with 73 percent saying it should not be a factor, even more than the percentage who were unimpressed by the idea of legacy admissions (68 percent said that whether a family member had attended the school should not matter). What’s more, a majority of adults, regardless of their own racial or ethnic backgrounds, said race and ethnicity should not be a factor in college admissions — 78 percent of non-Hispanic whites said so, along with 65 percent of Hispanics, 62 percent of blacks and 59 percent of Asian-Americans.

The responses in the Pew poll suggest people want merit to matter most in deciding who gets into college and who doesn’t. But as this week’s indictments show, the reality of that process is far more complicated.
From ABC News:

Largest college admission scandal in US history busted

Other polling nuggets

  • Monmouth University polled Democrats and, similar to other surveys, found former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders leading the potential primary field with 28 and 25 percent support, respectively, while Sen. Kamala Harris ranked third with 10 percent. In head-to-head GOP primary matchups, President Trump topped 70 percent support1 among Republicans when matched up against former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld or Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. Still, 40 percent of Republican respondents said they preferred that Trump face a primary challenger compared to 53 percent who wanted Trump to go unopposed in the GOP nomination process.
  • In a survey of Florida voters, Quinnipiac University found that 51 percent said they will “definitely not vote” for Trump compared to 31 percent who said they “definitely will.” Another 14 percent said they would consider voting for him. These numbers are similar to national polls that have also asked a version of this question.
  • In that same Quinnipiac University poll, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis received high approval marks. Fifty-nine percent of Floridians approved of his job performance while just 17 percent disapproved, despite the 2018 gubernatorial race being both extremely close and deeply contentious. According to Quinnipiac, this is the best mark for any Florida governor in the past 10 years.
  • A poll from Emerson College showed Trump trailing five different Democratic candidates in head-to-head matchups in Michigan, which was the state decided by the narrowest margin in the 2016 presidential election. The survey showed Biden with an 8-point lead over Trump, Sen. Amy Klobuchar up by 6 points, Sanders up by 5 points, and both Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren up by 2 points.
  • In that same poll, Emerson College also tested a hypothetical matchup in Michigan’s 2020 Senate race, and found Democratic Sen. Gary Peters neck and neck with Republican John James, who made an unsuccessful attempt to oust Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018 and who may run for the state’s other Senate seat next year. Peters led 44 percent to 43 percent, well within the margin of error.
  • In a Minnesota poll, DFM Research asked about the 2020 presidential race and found Klobuchar ahead of Trump in her home state, 52 percent to 35 percent, with former Starbucks CEO and potential independent candidate Howard Schultz receiving 7 percent.
  • A Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 64 percent of Americans support “Medicare for All,” or a policy that would offer government-funded health care to all Americans, but a majority of Americans wanted to continue to allow enrollment in private health insurance plans. Only 25 percent wanted to “completely eliminate private health insurance.”
  • For the second time, Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposal for the terms under which the United Kingdom will withdraw from the European Union failed in a parliamentary vote. Afterward, a Politico-Hanbury poll found that 50 percent of U.K. voters said May should resign versus 32 percent who said she should not. When asked whether there should be a new general election, 42 percent said yes and 38 percent said no.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.5 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.9 points). At this time last week, 41.9 percent approved and 53.3 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -11.4 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.5 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.1 percent, for a net approval rating of -12.6 points.


  1. Including those who said it was “possible” that they would consider backing Trump’s opponent “a year from now.”

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.