Attitudes towards Affirmative Action Programs: A Q Methodological Study

Main Article Content

Nancy H. DeCourville
Carolyn L. Hafer


This study examined the structure and content of attitudes toward affirmative action programs, including preferential hiring based on gender or minority group status. Ninety-seven individuals recruited from the community (51 women, 43 men, 3 of unspecified gender), were presented with 70 statements obtained in a telephone survey of attitudes toward affirmative action programs. They sorted the statements on an 11-point scale ranging from -5 (least like my point of view) to +5 (most like my point of view). The Q sorts were factor analyzed using principal components analysis with varimax rotation. Three interpretable factors emerged. Factor 1 was defined by 15 women and 28 men. The group expressed strong negative reactions to affirmative action programs, focusing mainly on qualifications and merit of candidates. Factor 2 was defined by 22 women and 6 men. In contrast to the first group, participants on this factor were in favor of affirmative action programs, a position that appeared to be based on recognition of inequality in the work place and the need for change. Finally, Factor 3 was defined by 7 women and 6 men, whose attitudes seemed to be based primarily on the denial of disadvantage. Despite the fact that affirmative action policies have been in effect for as long as 30 years, only a relatively small proportion of respondents appeared to understand the need for and goals of these policies. Results of this research provide new insights and a basis for work to change misconceptions about affirmative action. Comparisons between a single-item attitude measure and the 3 perspectives represented in this study help to illustrate the usefulness of Q methodology in subjective studies.

Article Details

How to Cite
DeCourville, N. H., & Hafer, C. L. (2001). Attitudes towards Affirmative Action Programs: A Q Methodological Study. Operant Subjectivity, 24(4). Retrieved from