Twenty-eight percent of Americans think a college applicant's race and ethnic background should be a factor when granting admission to promote diversity on college campuses.
Seventy-five percent of whites and 59 percent of Hispanics believe applicants should be evaluated based on merit alone, while black people are more evenly divided on the topic, the poll said.
In a separate question, Americans largely support the idea of affirmative action programs more generally. Fifty-eight percent of Americans support affirmative action, including 51 percent of whites, 76 percent of blacks and 69 percent of Hispanics.
Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to favor such programs, the poll found.
"Americans are not averse to having the government take steps to help improve the conditions of minority groups in the United States, and in a broad sense express support for affirmative action programs," Gallup said. "One of the clearest examples of affirmative action in practice is colleges' taking into account a person's racial or ethnic background when deciding which applicants will be admitted.
"Americans seem reluctant to endorse such a practice, and even blacks, who have historically been helped by such programs, are divided on the matter."
Gallup interviewed 4,373 adults by telephone for the survey between June 13 and July 5. There was a 2 percentage point margin of error.