Pew Poll: Vast Majority of Republicans Think Media Have Negative Impact; Democrats Increasingly Positive

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Pew Research released a poll Monday of Americans’ views of the influence of major institutions.

The poll shows increasingly negative Republican views of the news media and universities, but it also shows that views on the influence of labor unions are softening on the right.

Only seven percent of self-identified “conservative Republicans” think the national news media have a positive impact, continuing a long-term trend on the political right towards distrust of the media. Among all Republican and Republican-leaning respondents, 85 percent thought the news media have a negative “effect on the way things are going in the country,” while only ten percent thought the opposite.

Negative views of the media still prevail overall, with 63 percent of all poll respondents saying it has a negative effect on the way things are going, compared to only 28 percent with a positive view. Among the political left, however, views of the media’s impact are shown to be improving, with an 11-point increase in the proportion of Democrats saying the media had a positive impact just during the last year.

The sharpest change in attitude is seen with Republican opinions on the influence of colleges and universities on American society. According to the poll, conducted last month by both landline and cell-phone survey, 58 percent of Republicans now consider universities to negative effect. Only 36 percent thought they had a positive effect. Meanwhile, 72 percent of Democrats thought higher education institutions had a positive impact, while only 19 percent thought they had a negative one.

This contrast, sharp as it is, represents an increasing polarization of views on higher ed institutions. As recently as 2010, the 58 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats had similar positive views of the impact of colleges and universities. The slight increase is Democratic faith in these schools is met with a 22-point collapse of positive view among Republicans and Republican-leaning Americans.

Views of the impact of churches and other religious institutions remained mostly unchanged, with 73 percent of Republicans saying they had a positive impact, compared to 50 percent of Democrats.

Bucking the trend of polarization, however, are partisan views of labor unions, whose standing appear to be improving across party lines. Since 2010, when 65 percent of Republican respondents said that unions had a negative effect on the country, that figure has dropped to only 46 percent. Nearly a third of Republicans now consider unions to have a positive effect. These figures mirror the 16 percent increase, from 43 to 59 percent, of Democrats with a positive view of the impact of unions and the 15 percent increase, from 32 to 47 percent, among all respondents during the same period.

Republican perception of unions changed most sharply in the last two years, during which time populist-nationalist politicians and policies took on an unprecedented prominence in the GOP. The campaign of President Donald Trump made a concerted effort to reach union voters in that same 2015-2016 period, causing consternation among union officials, who, for the most part, encouraged their membership to vote for the nominee of the traditionally labor-allied Democratic Party.

Since taking office, President Trump has continued, in contrast to the sometimes union-bashing history of his own party, to offer labor a seat at the table in the new administration, hosting a summit of union leaders in his first week in office.

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