Parents should send their children to the nearest state school, more than 60% of people believe.
Fewer than four in 10 people, 38% of those surveyed, said that families who could afford it should pay for their children's education.
In a survey of 2,000 people questioned on attitudes to school choice, 63% said they believed the closest state school to the family home should be first choice, with a further 22% also agreeing if all the local schools were of a similar quality.
However, 68% agreed in principle with a parent's right to choose a school for their child.
Dr Sonia Exley, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, said: "People do believe that they ought to have a 'right to choose', particularly where they are not happy with their local school.
"However, public feeling also seems to be that if schools were of an equal and acceptable standard then choice wouldn't be necessary.
"Parents don't necessarily want to have to make active choices in order to secure a good school for their child, they just want their nearest school to be good enough.
"Government promotion of choice as an agenda diverts attention away from the bigger issue of why this isn't the case."
The study, carried out by the LSE for the Economic and Social Research Council, is thought to be the first to examine attitudes to school choice in the UK in detail.
Only 4% of those surveyed said they thought giving parents "a lot of choice" should be the top priority for schools, but when it came to choosing a secondary school, 69% agreed that parents should put the needs and interests of their child first. However, a total of 60% said this had to be balanced against the needs and interests of other children.
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