America's deep partisan divide is now leading Republicans to lose respect for the country's great national institutions, specifically the need for higher education.
A new Pew Research poll indicates that a majority (58 percent) of Republicans believe that colleges and universities have a negative impact on the United States. That number has spiked in just the past two years. In 2015, only 37 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents felt the same way.
Contrarily, Democrats tend to have a positive outlook of higher education, with a 72 percent approval rating.
The sharp increase in distrust of public universities among conservatives can partly be attributed to recent campus protests and calls for added protections for minority communities on college campuses.
In February, for example, protesters at the historically liberal UC Berkeley forced the cancelation of a speech from alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Although a large majority of protesters demonstrated peacefully, a subsection of the protest turned violent, resulting in $100,000 of damage across the campus.
Some conservative thinkers say that demonstrations which shut down major speeches from controversial figures are fundamental attacks on the First Amendment. That rhetoric even seeped into the 2016 Republican platform.
“We call on state officials to preserve our public colleges, universities, and trade schools as places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance or ‘safe zones,’ as if college students need protection from the free exchange of ideas,” the platform read.
Republicans also have a different prescription for handling the ever-increasing costs of attendance at colleges and universities. As Yahoo News reports, conservatives suggest that a growing number of students should forego the traditional college classroom altogether and instead choose cheaper options like technical school or online programs.
This outlook differs drastically from the Democratic platform which calls on states to halt tuition increases while providing greater financial support and loan flexibility for students currently enrolled in school.
The Pew poll indicates that Republican opposition to public universities is part of a larger dissatisfaction with most American institutions, especially the media which scored a shocking 85 percent disapproval rating among conservative-leaning individuals.
These significant increases are troubling, especially as President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders continue to discredit many of the institutions that Americans have long looked to as the foundations of our democracy.
Thumbnail Credit: Flickr, Mike Steele