Seventy percent of respondents said they agree with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote in June that although the Constitution allows race to be a factor in college admissions now, there should be no need for that consideration in a quarter-century.
The survey for the American Bar Association also found 88 percent of respondents think the nation has made substantial or some progress eliminating discrimination in public school since the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling desegregating ruling.
The Harris Interactive poll was conducted by telephone with 1,011 respondents on July 24-27 and has a margin or error of plus or minus 3.1 percent. The ABA, the nation's largest lawyers' group, was to release the poll during its annual meeting Monday.
Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer also was to take office Monday as the first black president of the 126-year-old ABA. He plans several events marking the 50th anniversary next year of that 1954 desegregation ruling, Brown v. Board of Education.
"Unless you lived through it, it's difficult to imagine the sense of frustration, the desire of parents to have their children go to good schools and universities," Archer said Sunday.
Archer, 61, said that for many people, this year's Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action was the most important civil rights case since the Brown ruling.
O'Connor's decision in a case involving the University of Michigan preserved the concept of affirmative action on campus. The court reasoned that the goal of a racially and ethnically diverse campus was important enough to justify giving minority applicants an edge.
O'Connor noted that the case came 25 years after the high court last considered race in college admissions, in the 1978 California v. Bakke ruling that outlawed racial quotas to make up for past discrimination. The same ruling also established the principle the court upheld in June — that government has a strong interest in ensuring that campuses are racially diverse.
"Since that time the number of minority applicants with high grades and test scores has indeed increased," O'Connor wrote. "We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today."
Supporters of affirmative action say a variety of factors, including inadequate public education in many minority neighborhoods, means that minorities often do not score as well on standardized tests and other measures that colleges use to screen applicants.
Opponents of affirmative action argued to the Supreme Court that the Constitution forbids all racial discrimination, and that white applicants were excluded from the Michigan campus based on their race.
The poll released by the ABA asked about the Bakke ruling, and whether it is possible to "make up for past discrimination" in education. About half, 54 percent, disagreed either strongly or somewhat that it is possible.
Seventy-two percent of the poll respondents agreed strongly or somewhat that a fair legal system depends on racial diversity among judges, lawyers, court employees and law enforcement.
An Associated Press poll in February and March, before the latest Supreme Court ruling, found most Americans agreeing that diverse student bodies are good for colleges. A majority also said the United States is not close to ending discrimination.