A rather striking poll by Pew Research has just been released that reveals that only 55 percent of Americans think that colleges and universities “have a positive effect on the way things are going” in the US. This may be a majority, but it’s a fine one. In any case, this means that almost half of Americans think universities and colleges are having a negative effect on the national state of affairs.
As ever, these things are sharply divided along party lines. The poll finds that 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think that they are having a negative effect, up from 45 percent last year. In contrast, a large majority of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents – 72 percent – think the opposite, which is in line with previous years’ findings.
Overall, when the negative ratings are subtracted from the positive ratings, Republicans have a net -22 percentage approval of universities, whereas Democrats have a net +53 percent approval.
That’s not all. The survey also looks at the public’s perception of various other facets of their lives, including religious institutions and the news media and so on. When it comes to colleges and universities, Democrats see them as having a better effect on the country than the media (net -2), labor unions (net +37), churches and religious groups (net +14), and financial institutions (net -21).
More Republicans, on the other hand, view colleges and universities less favorably than banks and financial institutions (net +9) and religious organizations (net +59).
This is grim, but not surprising. One of the key indicators of support for Trump, far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, and Brexit was educational level, particularly at the university level.
For some reason, having any kind of university degree makes someone far more moderate or left-leaning than their non-degree owning friends. This may be why Republicans are increasingly keen to disapprove of colleges, as they see them as bastions of liberal thinking.
Compared to Democrats, Republicans are clearly far more driven by partisan ideologies. Facts are less important to these voters, as studies are increasingly revealing. The age of Trump, the rise of “alternative facts”, and a resurgence in science denial are only exacerbating things.
When it comes to party affiliation, for example, people’s acceptance of scientific beliefs takes two very different routes. A Democrat’s level of scientific knowledge correlates strongly with how much they accept scientific consensus on things like climate change. Conversely, scientific knowledge has no discernable effect on Republican’s acceptance of scientific consensus.
Either way, when centers of learning and educational ability are being shunned en masse, and when their importance is replaced by a total acceptance of the increasingly extreme views of the party platform, this is no longer politics, or reality - it's fundamentalism.