In the New York Times last week, Nate Cohn writes "The polls don’t tell a clear story [about public opinion on affirmative action]. Some polls show that affirmative action is very popular. Others show that it’s not popular at all." I think that they tell a pretty clear story--a large majority of people don't think that race should be considered in college admission. The difference among polls occurs because "affirmative action" covers a lot of things, and some of them are popular--for example, special efforts at outreach to minorities. There's a related issue that hasn't received much attention--how do people think that things actually work? In 2003, 2005, and twice in 2007 the Gallup Poll asked "If two equally qualified students, one white and one black, applied to a major U.S. (United States) college or university, who do you think would have the better chance of being accepted to the college--the white student, the black student--or would they have the same chance?" The distribution of answers was similar on all occasions, so I'll just give the average:
White Black Same DK
30% 23% 42% 5%
Unfortunately the individual-level data aren't available for any of the polls, but even if you make the extreme assumption that every black respondent said that the white student would have the better chance, less than 30% of whites said that the black student would have a better chance.
[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]