Research: GOP No Longer Trusts Higher Education Because Knowledge Undermines Their Core Beliefs



The Pew Research Organization just completed a survey of Democrats and Republicans about their trust in major US institutions. The one result that stood out was that Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP no longer trust America's colleges and universities. Only about one-third [34%] have a positive view of higher education. On the other hand, 76% of Democrats view America's universities favorably.


Pew approached this question a bit differently in two studies during Donald Trump's presidency, but with about the same result. A June 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that a majority of Republicans believe colleges and universities have a "negative effect on the way things are going in the country." Democrats overwhelmingly said the opposite. And a separate Pew survey in 2017 found that Republicans didn't have much regard for college professors either.


There are two reasons for this wide divergence in trust of higher education. The first is fairly obvious. The GOP has become the party of whites without a college education and it's natural that those without a degree would value education less.

Illuminate: "This week the Pew Research Center released a study on voting trends and noted that college educated Americans now favor the Democratic Party by a whopping 20 point margin, 57% to 37%, one of the largest gaps ever noted in party affiliation research. And among those with some post-graduate study the margin is 61% to 33%."

The second reason is a bit more complicated, but it helps explain the growing gulf between America's two political parties. Education represents objective knowledge and that is the antithesis of what the Republican Party stands for today. It was the reason that Donald Trump quipped in 2016 that he loved "the poorly educated.”


Conservative foreign affairs analyst Max Boot wrote a column last Fall titled "The GOP has become the stupid party — and proud of it," lamenting the current plight of his political party.

Boot, Washington Post: "In the 1980s, when I became a Republican, the GOP took pride in describing itself as the “party of ideas.” But under Trump’s leadership, Republicans have reclaimed their old reputation, dating back to the 1950s, as the “stupid party.” What’s even more telling: This is not a source of shame or embarrassment for the party’s populists. They’re the stupid-and-proud-of-it party."

The origin of what Boot refers to goes back quite a ways and has its roots in conservatism itself. Knowledge about who we are, how we got here, and our physical environment is obtained through scientific research, often carried out by academics at colleges and universities. Science doesn't have a political bias, liberal or conservative, it's simply a methodology for examining the world. However, because science challenges traditional religious beliefs, cultural taboos, and well-entrenched economic interests it is often seen as the enemy by conservatives.


Science ran headlong into religious dogma when Darwin published "Origin of Species" in 1859, and many conservative Christians still dispute the science underlying evolution, LGBT rights, the "big bang" theory, bans on gay conversion therapy, and a host of other culture war issues. The Republican Party embraced these culture warriors in the late 1970s with the nomination of Ronald Reagan, and slowly those with college educations and a fondness for the scientific method migrated to the Democratic Party.


The Gallup organization captured this transition in their polling last year which measured trust in science in 1975 and in 2021, broken down by party.

Gallup: "Republicans today are much less likely than their predecessors in 1975 to have confidence in science. Meanwhile, Democrats today have more confidence than their fellow partisans did in the past."

You can see the result of this transition within our discussion of the most pressing scientific issue we face today; climate change. The big business/anti-regulation component of the Republican Party has had a vested interest in impugning both the motives and competence of climate scientists and they have been unrelenting. While Democrats generally understand that these attacks are funded by fossil fuel companies, many Republicans welcome this new front in their war on science and academic research.


The nomination of Donald Trump in 2016 represented the culmination of years of anti-intellectual rot within the GOP. He ran the most anti-science presidential administration in the nation's history in which the Environmental Protection Agency was run by a former coal lobbyist, wind turbines caused cancer, and Covid was a "hoax". If you were a Trump supporter, being a science-denier became a badge of honor.

New York Times: “Donald Trump is the most anti-science and anti-environment president we’ve ever had,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. The president’s actions, he said, have eroded one of the United States’s most enviable assets: the government’s deep scientific expertise, built over decades. “It’s extraordinarily crazy and reckless."

Unfortunately, this trend among Republicans is far from over and it's the root cause for the GOP's current war on K-12 education. The new prohibitions in states like Texas and Florida on discussing LGBT individuals or systemic racism, the book bans, and the sanitized ["patriotic"] history lessons are really just old-fashioned witch hunts on knowledge and objective truth. And, ignorance is what passes as populism in the modern GOP.


#culture #politics #research #science #education

By: Don Lam & Curated Content

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