Half of Americans think college has a positive effect on the country, according to new Pew Research Center data. However, the findings of the study released late last month were not all positive. The 50% mark is a 10-year low. When the survey was first conducted in March of 2010, 61% of the country thought college had a positive impact on the country compared to just 26% that believed it had a negative impact. After peaking at 63% in favor of college in 2015, the rate has been dropping to 50% this year. Meanwhile, Americans that believe college has a negative impact on the country has been gradually increasing every year from 26% in 2010 to 38% this year.
Incredibly, the drop in positive beliefs and rise in negative comes almost entirely from survey respondents that also identified as Republican. In 2010, 65% of Democrats and 58% of Republicans thought college had a positive impact on the country. This year, 67% of Democrats believe college has a positive impact on the country, but the Republican rate has plummeted to 33%. The results aren’t totally surprising. According to other Pew Research Center data after the 2018 mid-term elections, 59% of college-educated women voted for Democrat House of Representative candidates compared to 39% that voted for Republican candidates. When looking at non-college educated women, the rate flips to 56% voting Republican and 42% voting Democrat. For men, 51% of college-educated men voted Republican while just 47% voted Democrat. For non-college educated men, however, that gap widened dramatically with just 32% voting Democrat and 66% voting Republican.
TECH COMPANIES ARE SEEN AS MORE NEGATIVE NOW THAT EVER BEFORE
Still, 50% is not horrible compared to other Pew data within the survey. Pew asks Americans about the impact of seven different major institutions including churches and religious institutions, technology companies, labor unions, banks and other financial institutions, large corporations, and the national news medial. Of those, only churches and religious institutions had a more positive rate at 52%. Tech companies also had 50% of respondents say they have a positive impact on society. Following tech and higher education were labor unions (45%), banks and other financial institutions (39%), large corporations (32%), and the national news media (25%).
Since beginning the study in 2010, tech companies have taken the biggest hit, dropping 18 percentage points in positive perceptions since 2010. In the first year, tech companies had a 68% positive impact rate and just 18% negative. That gap widened to 2015 when 71% believed tech companies had a positive impact on the country compared to just 17% that believed they had a negative impact. The gap has shrunk drastically since then to 50% positive and 33% negative this year.
Besides tech, higher education and religious institutions have each dropped the second-most in the positive perception category at 11% each. However, those believing religious institutions have a negative impact on society only increased seven percentage points (from 22% to 29%) while the same figure rose 12% percentage points for higher education (from 26% to 38%). Only tech companies had a more dramatic increase in those believing the industry has a negative impact on the U.S.
PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF BANKS RECOVERING FROM GREAT RECESSION
Timing plays a bit role in the survey results. For example, when the first survey was conducted in 2010, Americans were still recovering from the Great Recession. In that survey, just 22% of Americans believed banks and financial institutions had a positive impact on the country compared to 69% that believed they were negative. The rates were similar for large corporations with 25% positive and 64% negative. While large corporations have recovered a bit in perception among the American population (32% positive and 53% negative), banks and financial institutions have really recovered (39% positive and just 39% negative). That 30-percentage-point swing in the negative category is the largest among all institutions.
The survey was conducted by phone from July 10 to 15 and includes 1,502 responses from people at least 18 years old and living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.