Multiple U.S. media outlets are citing an online survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as proof Donald Trump’s election is causing a surge of bullying in schools. But the survey is flawed in several obvious ways, and shouldn’t be taken as proof of anything at all.
Even before Trump had secured the Republican nomination for president, SPLC was aggressively promoting the idea that a “Trump Effect” was causing a rise in bullying in American schools. The claim was even repeated by Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. Now, in the wake of Trump’s victory, SPLC is doubling down on the idea, using a survey of American teachers in which it asks them what has been happening in their schools since Election Day.
“The survey data indicate that the results of the election are having a profoundly negative impact on schools and students,” SPLC said in a Monday report on the survey. “Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected … A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.”
If SPLC’s survey represented the genuine, nearly-unanimous sentiment of American teachers, it would warrant a great deal of concern. But the survey, in fact, isn’t even close to scientific. Instead, it’s simply a collection of anecdotes from a self-selecting group of teachers who are almost certainly on the political left and overwhelmingly hostile to Trump.
SPLC’s own description of the survey is clear about its nature:
The results of this survey are not scientific. The respondents were not selected in a manner to ensure a representative sample; those who responded may have been more likely to perceive problems than those who did not. But it is the largest collection of educator responses that has been collected; the tremendous number of responses as well as the overwhelming confirmation of what has been anecdotally reported in the media cannot be ignored or dismissed.
There are more than three million teachers in the United States. Despite SPLC’s rhetoric about the “tremendous response” to their survey, the 10,000 responses they received represents less than one-third of one percent of all teachers. Responses to the survey were solicited through left-leaning publications and organizations like Teaching Tolerance and the American Federation of Teachers, a major teachers union that was one of the first unions in the country to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. Unsurprisingly then, teachers who responded are likely left-leaning themselves, hostile towards Trump, and more likely to attribute negative events at school to some kind of “Trump effect.”
But beyond that, there isn’t even any guarantee that the survey respondents are real on a basic level. The SurveyMonkey survey used to collect SPLC’s data can be answered by anybody, and respondents can submit answers anonymously, using fake data, or while pretending to be somebody else. There’s also nothing to stop a person from responding more than once.
But these obvious flaws haven’t stopped the survey from being enthusiastically picked up by the media. Politico’s Morning Education newsletter said the “vast majority of educators” saw a negative outcome from the election; it never noted the survey’s un-representative nature. NBC News, BuzzFeed, Vice, Newsweek, the BBC and more all made similar claims, simply repeating SPLC’s narrative without ever mentioning the survey’s clear shortcomings. None of the news sites listed above noted that the survey was unscientific, and some didn’t even note that SPLC is a left-leaning organization.
It’s possible that Donald Trump’s election has, in some cases, helped cause a surge in bullying. But SPLC’s survey is hardly strong proof of it, and citing it like it is is fake news.