Harvard’s Popularity Dips to Record Low

The university’s image has suffered amid a steady drumbeat of media coverage over affirmative action, antisemitism and plagiarism
January 04, 2024 at 3:28 pm UTC

Public sentiment about Harvard University has reached a tracking low following a double-digit tumble, according to Morning Consult Brand Intelligence, as negative press coverage has engulfed the storied university for months.

Harvard’s Image Sinks as Media Scrutiny Intensifies

Harvard University’s net favorability* rating among all U.S. adults
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*Net favorability is the share of respondents with a favorable view minus the share with an unfavorable view.
Source: Morning Consult Brand Intelligence

The Ivy League school’s net favorability rating has fallen 15 percentage points, from a high of 36 in June 2023 to 21 this month. 

Harvard drove headlines throughout the second half of 2023.

In late June, the Supreme Court struck down its affirmative action program. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations on the university campus that followed Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel drew criticism and allegations of antisemitism, culminating in bipartisan backlash to then-President Claudine Gay’s testimony during a Dec. 5 congressional hearing on the matter. (The heads of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania also testified and faced criticism over their remarks, with the latter stepping down within days of the hearing.) 

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Gay, who became the university’s first Black president in July, resigned Tuesday amid the backlash and accusations of plagiarism first highlighted by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet. Gay stands by her academic record.

Republicans Drive Decline in Public Sentiment on Harvard

Harvard University’s net favorability* rating, by political party ID
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*Net favorability is the share of respondents with a favorable view minus the share with an unfavorable view.
Source: Morning Consult Brand Intelligence

Many conservatives, who already held comparatively less favorable views of the school, are viewing Gay’s resignation as a win. Harvard’s decline in favorability was more pronounced among Republicans — dropping from 21 points to minus 6 points since June. 

Progressives, meanwhile, who are more likely to sympathize with Palestinians, tend to attest that Gay was unfairly targeted due to her gender and race, and the tracking data shows the events of the past three months have done little to impact views of Harvard among Democrats. Previous Morning Consult research has highlighted university approval’s intense political polarization.

A headshot photograph of Joanna Piacenza
Joanna Piacenza
Head of Industry Analysis

Joanna Piacenza leads Industry Analysis at Morning Consult. Prior to joining Morning Consult, she was an editor at the Public Religion Research Institute, conducting research at the intersection of religion, culture and public policy. Joanna graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications and holds a master’s degree in religious studies from the University of Colorado Boulder. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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