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Study Involving UVA Professor Finds Correlation between Voter Preference, Bullying

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Cornell says 85,000 students were involved in the 2017 survey Cornell says 85,000 students were involved in the 2017 survey
UVA Professor Dewey Cornell UVA Professor Dewey Cornell
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

A new study involving a University of Virginia professor has found that school bullying has risen in Virginia localities that voted for President Donald Trump.

Professor Dewey Cornell at UVA says that after the presidential election in 2016, his research team heard a lot of concerns about increases in school bullying.

Cornell says his researching team looked at bullying data dating back to 2015 in 400 middle schools and also analyzed Virginia’s voting records.

He says the rate of bullying and teasing increased by 18 percent in some Virginia middle schools.

The study indicates that increases were observed in middle schools and localities that supported President Trump in the election.

Cornell says localities that supported Democratic candidates saw no increase in bullying.

Overall, the study indicates that there was a rise in teasing pertaining to racial and sexual topics.

"We also saw that there was an increase in teasing and bullying that involved racial or ethnic slurs, and also teasing about sexual orientation," Cornell said.

Cornell adds that this study is a correlation and it does not prove causation.

“Obviously this is a politically sensitive topic and we went to great lengths to look at this objectively, statistically, and our results have been subject to peer review,” Cornell said. “We've done extensive analyses to show that the increase is a real increase, it's not a statistical fluke.”

He says the study suggests social and cultural changes that are being reflected through increased rates of bullying.

Cornell says parents need to be aware that kids are influenced by public events, social media, and by the increase in angry dialogue seen across the country.

"I think whether you interpret this in a political way or not, the increase in bullying in those schools is a real increase, it's something we need to attend to," Cornell said.

The researchers plan to conduct a new survey of Virginia middle schools beginning in the spring to see whether or not trends have persisted.


Press Release from the American Educational Research Association:

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 9, 2019—Bullying rates among middle school students in the spring of 2017 were 18 percent higher in localities where voters had favored Donald Trump than in those that had supported Hillary Clinton, according to a study published online today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Similarly, student reports of peers being teased or put down because of their race or ethnicity were 9 percent higher in localities favoring the Republican candidate.

Prior to the 2016 presidential election, there were no meaningful differences in bullying and teasing rates between Democratic and Republican localities. The study examined a Virginia statewide sample of more than 155,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students across the state’s 132 school districts.

The study—conducted by Francis Huang, an associate professor of statistics, measurement, and evaluation in education at the University of Missouri, and Dewey Cornell, a professor of education at the University of Virginia—used school climate survey data collected in 2013, 2015, and 2017. Researchers used a standard definition of bullying to ask students if they personally had been bullied at school, but also asked more general questions about bullying and teasing they had observed happening to others in their school.

Survey results were then mapped onto presidential election results for each school district’s locality. The study controlled for several locality-wide variables, including prior bullying and teasing rates, socioeconomic status, population density, and the percentage of white student enrollment.
Huang and Cornell found that a 10 percentage point increase in voters supporting the Republican candidate in 2016 was associated with a 5 percent jump in middle school teasing because of race or ethnicity and an 8-percent increase in middle school bullying.

“We found consistent differences in teasing and bullying rates that were linked to voting preferences,” said Huang. “While our findings do not indicate that support for Trump caused bullying to increase in Republican districts, they do provide some credence to the widespread perception that some types of teasing and bullying have increased, at least in some localities.”

The researchers noted that the findings support nationwide concerns voiced by teachers about bullying following the presidential election.

“While the ways in which the presidential election could have affected students is likely complex, educators and parents should be aware of the potential impact of public events on student behavior,” said Cornell. “Parents should be mindful of how their reactions to the presidential election, or the reactions of others, could influence their children. And politicians should be mindful of the potential impact of their campaign rhetoric and behavior on their supporters and indirectly on youth.”

The researchers noted that further research is needed to determine whether there is a causal link between Trump’s behavior and student aggression against peers, and, if so, how the mechanism works.

“It may be that presidential behavior has indirect effects on the social environment experienced by students, but we won’t know until more studies are conducted,” said Huang.