Most Republicans think colleges are bad for the country, and the vast majority think the news media is too, according to new data from the Pew Research Center. The Pew study, conducted from June 8 to 18 among more than 2,000 respondents, found that Democrats and Republicans are growing substantially more divided in their opinions on public institutions.
According to the survey results released Monday, 58 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independents say that colleges and universities have had a negative impact on the nation — the first time a majority of Republicans have thought colleges are bad for the country. As recently as 2015, 54 percent of Republicans said colleges and universities had a positive impact on the way things were going in the country, but by 2016 those results split to 43 percent positive and 45 percent negative.
On the other side of the aisle, 72 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners say they think colleges and universities have a positive effect on the country, holding steady with past years’ results.
Pew doesn’t speculate on the reason for the decline, but over the past few years, colleges, particularly elite colleges, have made headlines for a series of controversies and protests around racism, free speech, and civil rights. In 2015, the football team at the University of Missouri went on strike to protest the handling of racist incidents on campus, and Yale was rocked by controversy about the proper way to address insensitive Halloween costumes.
More recently, students have protested and sometimes disrupted appearances from controversial figures associated with Donald Trump or the conservative movement. Fox News has closely tracked these protests, portraying liberals on campus as frequently violent and disruptive.
Republicans are especially cynical about the news
The partisan divide was even sharper when it came to the media. Only 10 percent of Republicans thought the media had a positive effect on the way things are going in the US.
Meanwhile, 44 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have a positive view of the news media’s impact on the nation — an 11-point increase since August 2016.
Much of this widening divide might be attributed to Trump’s political messaging, which declares an all-out war on the media. This month alone, the president tweeted a GIF featuring himself beating up a man with a CNN logo superimposed over his head and a personal attack on MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski. Indeed, since the presidential election in November, Google search trends reveal that mentions of “fake news” have skyrocketed, hinting at the changing public opinion toward news outlets.
Despite the widening partisan gap, however, Pew reports that the public’s overall views on the effect of institutions on the nation are relatively unchanged. Polarization may have increased, but the uptick in Democrats’ positive views balance out Republicans’ increasingly negative ones.