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Pew finds Republicans increasingly negative on higher ed

July 13, 2017
By: Ellen Marrison

A new survey released by the Pew Research Center reveals a much more negative view of the  impact of colleges and universities on America on the right, with a majority (58 percent) of the Republicans and Republican-leaning independents surveyed saying that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country compared to 45 percent last August. Democrats and Democratic leaning independents (72 percent) say the colleges and universities have a positive effect. The differences between the parties extend to other areas covered in the survey, including the national news media and religious organizations, but overall opinion has remained about the same.

While a majority of the public (55 percent) continues to say they believe colleges and universities have a positive impact on the country, Bruce Mehlman, a founding partner of the bipartisan strategic government relations firm Mehlman, Castagnetti, Rosen & Thomas based in Washington, D.C., said the decline in support among Republicans began years ago.

“Many Republicans have long seen academic institutions as intellectually and culturally hostile to conservatism, bastions of elitist limousine liberals who disdain GOP voters,” Mehlman said in response to the survey. “The clash was first evident during the anti-Vietnam 60’s and persisted into the Reagan era and beyond.  Current day campus activism, such as attacking conservative scholars such as Charles Murray, reinforce these beliefs and likely explain the recent drop in perception among Republicans.”

Two years ago, a majority of Republicans and Republican leaners (54 percent) said colleges and universities had a positive impact on the country. Mehlman said he does not think there are long-term implications from the shift in opinion. “The risk is ideally still small,” he said.  “Just as most voters hate Congress but like their own Congressmen, most Republican elected officials dislike academics but remain supportive of those institutions in their home states and districts.”

While the partisan divide exists, the Pew survey reveals that overall opinion of major institutions has not changed significantly. Majorities of those surveyed say churches and religious organizations have a positive effect (59 percent compared to 61 percent two years ago), while the numbers who find financial institutions and the national news media as having a negative impact on the country outweigh those who believe they are having a positive effect, which has remained consistent since 2010. A similar recent Gallup poll found that Americans’ confidence in 14 major institutions, including public schools and newspapers, actually edged up this year with 35 percent of respondents saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the institutions, which is close to the historical average (37 percent) since Gallup began the poll in 1993.

Mehlman, who also is on the board of SSTI, will be one of the featured speakers during SSTI’s 2017 Annual Conference, addressing the changing political climate in Washington, D.C., and helping attendees navigate the disruption and chart a clearer path. For more information, please go to ssticonference.org.

higher ed