STUDY: Elite universities reveal liberal bias through tweets

Toni Airaksinen
Columnist at PJ Media

  • A new study finds that the tweets sent out by elite universities are far more likely to include liberal-leaning sentiments than conservative ones, whereas less-prestigious colleges tend to post more politically balanced tweets.
  • University of Florida researcher Andrew Selepak, who led the study, says university marketing departments should take notice, because perceptions of partisan bias severely undermine the credibility of higher education.
  • Elite universities are significantly more likely to tweet out politically liberal and anti-Christian messages than lower-ranked schools, according to a new study. 

    Led by University of Florida researcher Andrew Selepak, the study used a novel approach—analyzing the political and religious valence of university tweets—to gain insight into why many Americans believe colleges have a negative impact on society. 

    "When academia is seen by large groups of people as biased and partisan, trust in institutions of higher learning falters, and with it, trust in science."   

    “The idea is that parents and prospective students will make judgements about these schools based off their marketing,” Selepak told Campus Reform. “Schools should be aware of how they’re being perceived.” 

    [RELATED: POLL: Perception of liberal bias hurting support for higher ed]

    To assess this, Selepak analyzed 1,069 tweets sent out by university Twitter accounts in Fall 2016 by the top 25 universities and the 25 lowest-ranked universities, using the 2016 ranking guide published by U.S. News and World Report

    He then categorized the tweets by subject and assessed their political valence, finding that while the overwhelming majority were politically neutral (more than 80 percent), tweets that conveyed political sentiments by elite schools were disproportionately liberal-leaning. 

    Among the elite universities, for example, Selepak documented 87 pro-liberal tweets in comparison to 30 pro-conservative tweets, whereas less prestigious colleges sent out more politically balanced tweets: 35 liberal tweets compared to 30 conservative-leaning tweets. 

    [RELATED: Republicans sour on academia, profs blame conservative media]

    Liberal tweets typically reflected “who’s being invited to campus to speak, an event that the university is promoting, or a professors’ newly published research,” said Selepak, who went on to assert that tweets reflect what’s happening “on the ground” at schools. 

    “So it's not exactly that the university's liberal-leaning messaging was deliberately executed by the marketing department itself, but rather, these tweets simply reflected what [topics] professors were researching and what speakers were invited on campus,” he explained.

    Selepak did, however, concede that his sample size was very small. 

    While an analysis of 1,069 tweets may seem robust, only 22 tweets were analyzed on average from each of the 50 schools. He says more research is needed to validate his findings, acknowledging that the results from a larger analysis “might be different.” 

    [RELATED: Profs fear academia’s ‘leftward shift’ could get even worse]

    Nevertheless, Selepak says his results are directly applicable to college marketing departments. 

    “When academia is seen by large groups of people as biased and partisan, trust in institutions of higher learning falters, and with it, trust in science,” he pointed out. “If political and Christian conservatives and Republicans see academic institutions as biased, pro-liberal, and anti-Christian, this could impact how they view the science produced.” 

    “These negative views could expand beyond the institutions and science, and into interpersonal relationships [among the public] leading to mistrust and division,” Selepak added, quipping that “this possibility is not entirely farfetched.”

    His study, “Exploring anti-science attitudes among political and Christian conservatives through an examination of American universities on Twitter,” was published in the recent issue of Cogent Social Sciences, a Taylor and Francis publication. 

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen





    Toni Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    Columnist at PJ Media
    Toni Airaksinen is Columnist at PJ Media and a Consultant at Youth Radio. She was previously a New Jersey Campus Correspondent, reporting on liberal bias and abuse for Campus Reform with a focus on Title IX, the OCR, and the First Amendment. During college, she also was a columnist for Quillette and The Columbia Spectator. Her exclusives have been featured on FOX News and The Drudge Report. She graduated from Barnard College in 2018.
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