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The American Political Divide Over Harry and Meghan; Survey: More Unites Americans on the Issues Than Divides Us; Survey: Americans Deeply Divided on Immigration; America's Aspirations; COVID-19 Pandemic Shaking Up College Admissions. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired March 13, 2021 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Is one shot for all better than none for some? I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. President Joe Biden used a primetime address to the nation on Thursday to lay out an encouraging timeline.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All adult Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1. And let me be clear. That doesn't mean everyone's going to have that shot immediately, but it means you'll be able to get in line beginning May 1.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: But seven members of the GOP Doctors Caucus say the U.S. is missing an opportunity to save lives when it comes to vaccine strategy. they sent a letter to the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking that they immediately review new data to, quote, "Enhance and increase the current vaccine administration."
Specifically, they believe that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were so effective that after just one dose, we should give one shot to as many people as possible and come back for a second dose as more vaccines are available. It's an approach already being taken by our allies across the pond. While the vaccine manufacturers recommend waiting only about a month in between both doses, the U.K. took the step of extending the interval to around 12 weeks.
Scientific advisors there said that this would provide at least some protection to as many people as possible in the early stages of the vaccine roll-out, but in response to the Doc Caucus letter, "The Wall Street Journal" published this piece titled "U.S. Government Scientists Skeptical of One-Shot Regimen for Pfizer, Moderna COVID Vaccines."
The lead read as follows, "U.S. government scientists are pushing back against calls for one-dose regimens for two COVID-19 vaccines designed to be administered with two shots, saying there isn't enough evidence that a single dose provides long-term protection."
Among those quoted, Peter Marks, the Director of the Food and Drug Administration Center that oversees vaccines, who said this, "It is essential that these vaccines be used as authorized by FDA in order to prevent COVID-19 and related hospitalizations and death."
Similarly, Paul Offit of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who served on the FDA advisory panel that recommended the use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines said those clinical trials, quote, "Found a level of neutralizing antibodies with one dose that was significantly less than what they got with two."
Senator Dr. Roger Marshall, also a signatory on the original Doc Caucus letter, fired back with a "Wall Street Journal" op-ed titled "One Shot Is Better Than None." Here's what he said, "After every senior citizen and high-risk individual gets their two shots, applied science would suggest we could save tens of thousands of lives if we give one shot to as many people as possible and came back for a second dose as more vaccines are available."
Consider this. If you had 200 Pfizer vaccines and 200 family members and it was up to you, how would you allocate them? The current emergency use authorization tells you to give 100 people two shots. Assuming it will be 95 percent effective, only 100 people would be vaccinated and 95 would be protected. Alternatively, you could give 200 people one shot. Assuming 75 percent effectiveness, 150 people at a minimum would be protected.
Much of the preliminary data on the effectiveness of one dose has not yet been peer reviewed. It all leads me to this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. Do you agree or disagree: Give a first vaccine shot to the most people possible instead of waiting for both doses to become available?
To understand more about the shots-for-all approach, I spoke with Senator and Dr. Roger Marshall from his car.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Doc Marshall, thank you so much for being here. I think I get what you want to do. You want to stretch out a limited supply of vaccine. Make the case.
SEN. ROGER MARSHALL (R-KS): Well, thanks. You're exactly right. I want to save lives. So we have a finite resource and there's lots of real world data that shows if we gave a lot of people one vaccine, we'd save more lives if we gave fewer people two vaccines and I just want to be clear.
I want seniors to get their second shot, I want people with high risk problems to get their second shot, but we will reach herd immunity much, much more quickly and save lives if we give everybody one shot and come back in two or three months and give them their second shot. Lots of real-world data out there. The U.K. is already doing this. So, I want to give the FDA the power, the authority to use this real-world knowledge and save more lives. SMERCONISH: Critics say we don't have sufficient long-term data to do what you're recommending.
MARSHALL: Look, I think there's plenty of data out there to say that after one shot of the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, it's 75 to -- 75 percent to 90 percent effective and that it's very safe to come back and give it in three months.
So I think that there's enough data to consider doing that, but mostly I want to give the FDA the flexibility to make that decision. I think even in two weeks or four weeks from now, there'll be enough data for them to move along.
SMERCONISH: "The Wall Street Journal" has been covering your idea, your initiative and in coverage of this idea and the back and forth, they quoted a senior scientist and advisor to President Biden who said, "You'd be flying blind to just use one dose. If you're going to do something else other than follow the studies shown to the FDA, show me that this one-shot effect is durable."
In doing research, the best that I could find was a letter to the editor of "The New England Journal of Medicine" from two Canadian doctors. Is that the best in terms of study or research that you're able to point to?
MARSHALL: Look, I don't know what it'll be like in six months or nine months from now, but I think it'll be sufficient protection until we have enough to get that second vaccine into everybody and I actually think what I'm seeing on the studies I'm looking at shows that over a month, after two months, that the effectiveness even goes up more from just one shot. So, I think that there's enough real world data out there that the FDA should seriously consider the best way to use this finite resource.
SMERCONISH: And you made reference at the outset to the fact that -- and I just want to make this clear -- this is the approach being taken in the U.K. True?
MARSHALL: That's my understanding, yes, and I bet you'll see lots of other countries doing this as well and that's not unusual. I come from the world of medicine obviously and typically the European Union, the U.K. is a little bit quicker to adjust to things. You know, I come from the real practical world. There's lots of science out there. How do we best apply it to my particular patient?
Now, in this case, my particular patient's the entire population of the United States, but I think there's some -- this is a real world application and we need to give the FDA the ability to make some adjustments to use real world evidence to save thousands of lives.
SMERCONISH: Do you worry that if we were to go this route, it would give a sense of beer muscles to people who've already had one shot? In other words, they would think, well, one shot has now been given to me and because of the efficacy from one shot, I'm not going to show up for a second, for a booster.
MARSHALL: Look, I think that this is why we need pharmacists and doctors involved with this process encouraging everybody to get their second shot. Look, if America can understand the different mask mandates, we've been through, surely, they can understand this, that when it's possible, get your second vaccination. It's going to increase your immunity maybe from, you know, 75 percent up to 95 percent effective.
So, I think people will get that, especially if they get that follow- up e-mail, text, phone call from their doctor's office, from the nurse and encourage people to get that second shot. I think Americans are smart enough to figure this out.
SMERCONISH: And you're definitely of the opinion that they come back for a second shot, less anyone hear this conversation or read some of the back and forth about it and think that you're advocating one and done. That's not what you're saying for Moderna and for Pfizer.
MARSHALL: You are correct, sir. I want everybody to come back and get their second shot. Anybody that's had one shot needs to go ahead and get their second shot while we're sorting this out, but eventually, I think when we get to that low risk group, we can get one shot in everybody's arm and then come back for that second shot maybe at two months or three months as soon as every -- we have a -- supply is ramped up and the ability to give vaccines is ramped up, yes, I want everybody to get their second shot.
SMERCONISH: I know this has been your opinion for quite some time. I take it it was unchanged by the fact that President Biden, just this week, said that by May 1, every American will be able to get in line and not long thereafter, there will be sufficient supply. I guess the question is if there's truly that kind of light at the end of the tunnel, why then are you still advocating for spreading out the limited dosage that we have?
MARSHALL: I think regardless of what the plan is going forward, we can reach herd immunity a month sooner if you would describe -- if we do what I'm describing and I think just to President Biden's point, we may have enough to get one shot in everybody's arm, by May and we may not, but I think that this is going to speed it up about four weeks to get that herd immunity one way or the other.
SMERCONISH: And finally, a critic would say, well, this is not the means or the use for which the FDA approval was given on an emergent basis. In other words, you're not using them as intended and you would say what?
MARSHALL: This is exactly why I want to empower the FDA to look at this real-world evidence and make the decision. We don't want senators making decisions like this, but the FDA needs the authority, the ability under their EUA, to have some flexibility and I don't think that, right now, they have the flexibility to use real world evidence. So, I want them to look at all this real-world evidence out there, studies across the country and then see if they come to the same conclusion that I do. So, I think we're on the same page here.
SMERCONISH: Doc Marshall, thank you so much for your time.
MARSHALL: You bet. Thanks for having me and thanks for covering this issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Provocative, right? So, what are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have, Catherine? "How can you do that if it's not how it was tested? Are you saying you want them to start the studies over and see if one shot is effective?"
I think what he said, clearly, is he wants the FDA to be studying this issue and determining whether the proper approach is to stretch resources that are limited right now so that more people are provided some level of protection instead of some people having no level of protection. Read in on the issue. I've got a lot of information about it that's been posted at my website and I'll put, in my Twitter feed, more for you to read about now.
I want to know what you think. Go to my website at Smerconish.com and answer the question this hour. Agree or disagree: Give a first vaccine shot to the most people possible instead of waiting for both doses to become available.
Coming up, have you noticed that Harry and Meghan's support seems to break here in America along political lines? Why would American conservatives' side with the Royal Family and progressives with Meghan Markle? How did Harry and Meghan's struggle become a Rorschach test?
And in a new survey of the American people's concerns about our future, there's more agreement than you might expect, but not when it comes to immigration, which is why the new surge in border crossings is presenting a big problem for the Biden administration.
SMERCONISH: We fought a war seeking independence from the British monarchy and yet, over 17 million Americans tuned in to watch the Royal tea spill. Two schools of thought fiercely emerge -- those who are more sympathetic toward the Crown and those who stand by the couple and as my next guest pointed out, that divide seems right along party lines. Many who lean left, predominantly view Meghan and Harry as victims of an unwavering institution and relentless British tabloid coverage, all with racist undertones.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
JOY REID, HOST, "THE REID OUT": I was not surprised by the racism that Meghan has received because she's been attacked and attacked and attacked in the tabloids.
KEIR SIMMONS, NBC SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The reality is is that some of this stuff is about the contradictions within the system and the Royal Family is a very class-based institution where everybody has their rank.
JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": There's been 1,200 years of no mingling with other races. What makes you think, anybody think, that they're going to be OK with this?
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SMERCONISH: Ah, but those who lean right mostly view the privileged couple as naive and selfish.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
TOMI LAHREN, FOX NATION HOST: I, quite frankly, hearing from a duchess, a princess about her oppression and her victimhood is quite laughable.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST, "THE INGRAHAM ANGLE": Imagine getting Netflix and Spotify deals reportedly worth more than a $100 million just because you turned your back on your family and then claimed victim status on the way out the door. That's just royally embarrassing.
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT": It's not like prince whatever his name is and his angry wife from Los Angeles are compelling. You know exactly who they are. He's weak and unhappy. She's a manipulative opportunist.
JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS HOST, "WATTERS WORLD": She strikes me as someone who wants to be perceived as this naive American who didn't know what she was getting into.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SMERCONISH: The response on social media was no different. Conservatives claiming that Meghan should have known what she was getting into, that Harry was insensitive to his ailing grandfather, liberals praising the Duke and Duchess for being so candid, while also lamenting the Monarchy as an antiquated institution.
If we zoom out and look at polling on Americans' reactions to the interview in general, two-thirds of those who watched or read in said that they have more sympathy for Harry and Meghan than they do for the Royals. That polling seems to check out given that more people identify as Democrats in this country than as Republicans and so here's another issue on which it seems we cannot agree.
Here to further discuss is Joanna Weiss who wrote about the subject in a "Politico Magazine" piece titled "Why Are American Conservatives Siding With the Royal Family?" She's also a contributing editor for "Politico Magazine" and an editor of "Experience Magazine." Joanna, put me in the moment. You were watching the interview and you were keeping an eye on your Twitter feed and what did you notice?
JOANNA WEISS, AUTHOR, POLITICO: "WHY ARE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVES SIDING WITH THE ROYAL FAMILY?": Yes. The double screen that we all do and as the interview was going on, I found that all the liberals or most of the liberals on my feed were very sympathetic to Meghan Markle, were very angry at her treatment by the Royal Family, were posting things like Meghan Markle and Oprah Winfrey are going to take down the Monarchy.
And then on the other hand, the conservatives were not sympathetic at all, they thought that she should have known exactly what she was getting into, how could she not have Googled her husband before they got together and they actually were saying things like I feel sorry for the Queen.
SMERCONISH: I wondered how much of that were parroting or how many of those were parroting and I see this on Twitter from time to time. I mean, perhaps they all see it the same way or maybe they're just waiting for marching orders and they see a couple of figureheads for either side go in a particular direction and then everybody suits up in their usual uniform.
WEISS: Well, there's a little bit of a Twitter mob mentality to be sure, but actually if you take a step back and you look at social science research, you find that this liberal/conservative divide reflects something that explains a lot about American politics, too, I think. So liberals tend to see this problem as systemic or all kinds of problems as systemic.
You're looking at a large system and institutions that people are bumping up against that are broader than them. So Meghan bumping up against the institution of the Queen or you think about a debate like immigration, immigrants coming across the border because they're fleeing these institutional, systemic problems, but conservatives tend to see these kinds of issues as matters of individual responsibility and individual choices.
So, Meghan Markle knows what she's getting into and can get in and out of her situation, someone coming across the border can decide whether to take a treacherous trip and come across the border in the first place.
SMERCONISH: In other words, you see parallels between the immigration debate, which I'm about to get to in my next segment, and the way in which we perceive Meghan and the monarchy and I guess there are some parallels in education as well. True? Education policy?
WEISS: Sure thing. Do you -- do you spend a lot of resources and money to improve public schools for all students or do you give families vouchers to make decisions on their own about where they want to send their children to school? And I think if you look at a whole lot of different domestic issues, you can actually see those divides along those lines. You've got the systemic view from the liberals and you've got the individualistic view from the conservatives. SMERCONISH: Joanna, for what it's worth, I remain stuck in the middle with you because you also said this, "In reality, Harry and Meghan are probably neither as callous as their critics say nor as innocently virtuous as they are portraying themselves to Oprah."
WEISS: Yes. I think the truth definitely falls in the middle and after my political article ran, I definitely got some tweets and some comments from people saying, well, I'm a liberal and I don't have a lot of sympathy for Meghan Markle either. So, I think things are a little fuzzy in the middle with you and me and a lot of others, but I do think it's a really interesting framework for explaining why so many domestic policy issues are so divided.
SMERCONISH: Joanna Weiss, that was great. Thank you.
WEISS: Thanks for having me.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. From the world of Twitter, I think, "I do not believe all Republicans are racist no more than I believe all Democrats are not. However, conservative means you follow old-fashioned protocols. You don't air family squabbles in public and you respect your elders."
Yes. Look, there's some mixed thinking on the thing. Why we're all so entranced with it I think is another question that we should spend some time analyzing and I'm guilty as charged. I said to my wife last week I need to eat dinner early because at 8:00 o'clock, I have something to do and she said to me what are you kidding me? We both have something to do at 8:00 o'clock and there we sat and watched.
Please make sure you're going to the website at Smerconish.com. Tell me, survey question today, do you agree or disagree: Give a first vaccine shot to the most people possible instead of waiting for both doses to become available.
Up ahead, while President Biden may not want to label the immigration situation a crisis at the U.S./Mexico border, last month, there were more than 100,000 arrests and detentions and immigration ranks among the most divisive issues in the country.
Plus, the ubiquity of the Common App was already making it easy for students to apply to multiple colleges. Now with everybody at home and the uncertainties of COVID, there's a big surge in applications. It's much higher even for elite schools. Will everybody end up waitlisted?
SMERCONISH: This will shock you. There is more that unites Americans about our national aspirations than divides us and by the way, beyond the media mouthpieces, that has long been my view based on anecdote, but now it's backed up by political science. The Massachusetts-based think tank called Populace conducted a private opinion survey of the American peoples' ambitions for the long-term future of the country and their takeaway is this.
"Across race, gender, income, education, generational cohorts and, yes, the 2020 presidential vote, there is stunning agreement on the long-term national values and priorities that Americans believe should characterize the country moving forward."
You'll be surprised at what we actually agree on. The number one aspiration of all Americans -- the preservation of individual rights and that's not just red states or "Fox News" people. That's all Americans. Other areas of agreement? Quality healthcare and climate change, typically seen as left-leaning, but there are three big issues over which we remain steeply divided -- living wage, national and border security and immigration and chances are that division will intensify given what's going on at the border.
Under the Trump administration, border officials had been turning away migrants, including children, after putting in place a public health order related to the coronavirus pandemic, but the Biden administration has taken the position that it will allow children arriving on their own into the U.S.. This has led to a surge in the number of unaccompanied children in U.S. custody.
At the U.S./Mexico border in February, Border Patrol made more than 100,000 arrests and encounters. Out of those, more than 9,000 were unaccompanied children. That's up from 5,600 and change in January. Right now, more than 3,700 unaccompanied children are already in Border Control custody and that is a record number.
Meanwhile, around 8,800 children have been moved to HHS custody. That number has jumped by almost 1,000 in just the last week even though the number has been higher before. It's difficult for the agency right now to handle the backdrop of the pandemic with the situation in children coming into the country because it is outpacing shelter availability. So why is immigration such a divisive issue?
Joining me now to discuss his data is Todd Rose, the brain behind the Populace think tank and a former Harvard neuroscientist. Todd, 82 percent of Americans personally believe that we are more divided than united. You say they're wrong. Back it up.
TODD ROSE, CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, POPULACE: Yes. I mean, that's exactly right. That sentiment of division is just not matched by private opinion. So, when we use our methods to get around social pressure, to get at private values we see stunning agreement.
So, for example, in the top 10 aspirations for the future of the country we actually agree on eight of them together. And those like as you said coming into it. Those include things that often we don't think of as agreements like climate change, criminal justice reform and health care.
SMERCONISH: Can we put that up on the screen? I want everybody to take a look at this as we go through the data. We flashed through it -- OK. So, there we are broken down by gender, income, ethnicity, education. It doesn't matter. The number one aspiration, individual rights.
Now, I'm sure on the right people are cheering that. And on the left, people are probably skeptical that that's your finding.
ROSE: Yes, but again, this is why we use private opinion methods and not public opinion methods because as social creatures we often give answers to surveys that we think other people want to hear, not what we actually believe. So, our methods get around the destroying effect of social pressure, allows to rebuild the honest to goodness private values and priorities in the public.
SMERCONISH: Well, maybe it means different things to different people. You say individual rights to somebody who is a conservative, they think of their gun. You say individual rights to someone who's on the left maybe they're thinking about a woman's body is her own.
ROSE: And that's certainly going to be the case, right? But we don't want to overlook the fact that on top of that is the general shared sentiment that we believe in individuals and protecting their rights. That is something we can agree on even if we disagree in the intensity of one kind of right versus the other.
SMERCONISH: OK. I'm not surprised by the -- do you mind if we -- David Marshall, put that up one more time? I'm not surprised that health care comes in at number two and that everybody wants quality health care. But in the same way that I question individual rights being of paramount concern on the left I question climate change being so high on the priority list on the right. Explain that.
ROSE: Yes, that was pretty shocking to me. I got to be honest. But here is a really important case. The issue is less about our shared values and more about what we call collective illusions. We just misunderstand each other.
So, for example, climate change action is the third most important priority to the public in the aggregate but when we ask them what people think most Americans would say they believe their fellow citizens would only rank it as the 33rd most important. So, we just are misunderstanding each other. It's not so much that we're divided.
SMERCONISH: OK. Is it also that you're talking aspirations as opposed to issues? And by that, I mean that we can all agree on the destination, but maybe we can't agree on what kind of a car we're going to drive to get there.
ROSE: That's certainly going to be the case. And I think that's healthy. That's the point of a democracy.
For example, if we all agree that everyone should have high quality health care, now let's debate. Is it Medicare for All? Is it something like we have in Massachusetts that's more market based? Those are healthy disagreements that lead to better outcomes for everybody.
SMERCONISH: Let me go back to where I started immigration. So, you've told us where we agree why is this issue, the current situation -- I'll call it a crisis at the border -- why is that such a flash point?
ROSE: You know, it's interesting, I believe from doing this work for over a year, that part of the reason is that there are a number of reasons people actually care about it, different values. So, yes, like we heard things that were a bit like scapegoating but then we also heard some genuine things like national security and jobs and even public health issues this year. And so, it's that diversity of reasons and the clashing values there that I think intensify this divide. And it's also what drives broader misunderstanding in the public.
SMERCONISH: A quick final point. All this talk of agreement is going to put some media mouthpieces out of business. We really haven't addressed the question of, why is the perception different than reality? And I would maintain because it keeps a lot of people employed.
You get the final word. But just do it quickly.
ROSE: It does. And I will say that during COVID we've gotten most of our information secondhand about each other. We've got to end that. I will just end by saying the problem in our country today is less that we fiercely disagree, and it is more that we're just profoundly misunderstanding each other.
SMERCONISH: Amen. I love that thought. Thank you. Appreciate your time.
ROSE: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Checking in on tweets and Facebook comments. From the world of Twitter. What do we have?
The media and people at the extremes divide us while the majority sits around the middle trying to manage life. Amen to that. Right.
I mean, we reward passion. We allow those with the loudest voices to commandeer the greatest number of microphones. I say it here every week and I say it every day on radio.
By the way, one other observation. He's not alone in this new data. There's a Stanford professor named Morris Fiorina who wrote a book three or four years ago, look it up, called "Unstable Majorities." The thesis is that if you look at the 1970s versus the present-day Americans haven't changed their perception and policy and position on issues, the critical core issues. We see the world the same way. It's a fiction to think that we become so divided.
I hope that you're answering this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. Agree or disagree, give a first vaccine shot to the most people possible, instead of waiting for both doses to become available.
Still to come, because of COVID students couldn't visit colleges or take standardized tests this year. One thing they have been able to do is send off their applications and that's why especially at elite schools applications are way up. And now the wait lists are even longer than ever. The author of a new book "Who Gets In and Why" is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMERCONISH: Among COVID's many unexpected consequences, it has been wreaking havoc on college and graduate school admissions. This year an estimated 1,700 schools have temporarily or permanently stopped requiring the SAT and ACT scores. Students are casting a wider net.
According to the "Wall Street Journal," through March 1, the number of applicants using the Common App rose by 11 percent. At more selective schools it was up 17 percent. Here are some notable examples. UCLA applications, up 28 percent. Harvard, up 42 percent. Colgate up 103 percent.
Since there are still a finite number of spaces schools are overwhelmed and unsure which applicants they admit will actually accept. So wait lists are ballooning. Meanwhile, schools at tier 2 down are facing a plunge in interest. Is this a unique blip or has it changed things long term?
Joining me now to discuss is Jeffrey Selingo, a special adviser at Arizona State University who has been writing about college admissions for two decades and is the author of the recent book "Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions." Jeffrey, I think people will better appreciate the opinions you're about to offer when you tell them about your experience. What is it you did to write this book?
JEFF SELINGO, AUTHOR, "WHO GETS IN AND WHY: A YEAR INSIDE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS": So, I spent a year inside the college admissions process at three colleges and universities, the University of Washington, Davidson College in North Carolina, and Emory University in Atlanta. And they basically allowed me to sit there every day as many days as I could be there to read applications with them, to sit in committee meetings as they were deciding application by application up or down whether those applicants would get in, whether those seniors would get in.
SMERCONISH: This has been a subject of your professional focus for a long time. 1994, you were a summer intern at "U.S. News and World Report." If we go back to 94 and look at the admission's data, it's pretty stunning in comparison to today.
SELINGO: Oh, it's really stunning. And so in that year, for example, in the early 1990s, you could you get into the University of Pennsylvania, 42 percent, 43 percent of the students who applied got in, right? You basically a one in two chance. Washington University in Saint Louis, 60 percent was the acceptance rate in the early 1990s. They have all plunged to single digits. And this year, as you mentioned, we might see admissions rates down in four -- five percent of applicants who applied.
SMERCONISH: And so, what is going on in particular with COVID? I mean, most of them are at home, right? The applicants are at home. You don't have to take the SAT or the ACT so I guess everybody with a parent willing to spend $50.00 or whatever the admission application fee is says, yes, what the hell. I'll throw a long ball at Harvard.
SELINGO: Yes. So exactly that's what you've seen. So, if Harvard is not taking test scores this year, you're like, I might as well apply. The other problem is that it's impossible to get to campuses or -- and college admission officers aren't visiting high schools. So, you have no idea what schools you really want to go to so you end up applying to more.
So, I've been talking to high school counselors who say in a normal year student might apply to 10 maybe 15 schools. This year they're applying to 15, 20 or more. And that's what we're seeing in the Common App data as well. So if you can't get to the school you are like, well, I might as well apply and then try to figure it out later on if I get in.
SMERCONISH: So, in your book, you speak of the algorithms that they rely on. You may not have used that word. I may have just thrown that in. That school used to determine, well, who is really going to show up. What are they doing in trying to figure out what these massive application spikes who really is going to accept and when they do say you're in?
SELINGO: Yes. I mean, they are flying blind this year. They use big data to basically decide who will probably accept their acceptance which is called the yield rate. And at most selected universities the yield rate might be 30, 40, in some cases at the big Ivies that's, you know, more than 50 percent. In other words, if you say yes to the student, they're going to say yes to you.
But those are based on SAT scores, grade point averages, whether you even visited the campus. You're more likely to come if you visited. But they don't have a lot of those signals this year to decide if they accept somebody are, they going to accept the offer.
And so what they're doing, as you mentioned, is they're putting more students on the wait list as a result. Because they then they can decide once they accept somebody, well, if they don't come then we can just pull somebody off the wait list. And the wait list at some of these colleges this year could be much bigger than the entire freshman class they're actually waiting for.
SMERCONISH: Wow. Wow. This is a real important lesson that people need to hear. There are many like me who walk around and say, I could never get in today. And by the way, we mean it.
That's true at elite institutions. But the big message I had from your book is it has never been easier to get into college. Have I just misstated that?
SELINGO: No, you haven't. I mean, there are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. and even if you think about just the four-year colleges, the ones that maybe most people have heard about in some way or fashion you're probably talking another -- talking 1,200 colleges and universities. So the average acceptance rate is 65 percent meaning most students get into most schools that they apply to. The problem is that we're talking about the Harvards of the world, the other Ivy League schools, you know, small liberal arts -- elite small liberal arts colleges, those acceptance rates have dropped dramatically. And those schools maybe we're talking about, you know, 100 to 200 schools across the country.
So I -- the advice I always give to students is have a balanced list. It doesn't mean you can't shoot for the stars, but also have schools that you know you're going to have a better shot of getting into and there are plenty of those institutions out there. And you're going to get a really good education, you're going to get a job coming out of those schools because in many ways it's how you go to college than where you go to college that matters at the end of the day.
SMERCONISH: OK. Finally, because you peeked over the shoulder at the University of Washington, Emory and Davidson, give a tip to students and their parent watching when it comes to the essay what are they really looking for?
SELINGO: They're looking for an authentic example of something from your life. Stop writing things that you think the person on the other side of the desk is going to want to read.
So at the Emory University, for example, the year I was there, a student wrote about pulp and no pulp in the orange juice in the morning. The debates they used to have in the family. As an example of whether they really wanted to go away to college because they were worried about -- you know, missing those types of debates in the morning, went into the history of no pulp in the orange juice. It was just an interesting authentic essay that you can actually imagine coming out of the mouth of an 18-year-old. Instead of many of the application essays that we read were mind-numbingly similar and you really thought those students were writing something for the person on the other side of the desk.
SMERCONISH: I would admit that kid. I was at the grocery store last night standing in the O.J. aisle having a Larry David moment wondering, why is there so much choice? Who are these people that don't want pulp? Jeffrey, thank you. That was excellent.
SELINGO: It was great to be with you. Thank you.
SMERCONISH: From the world of Twitter. What do we have?
True story. It happened just last night. It's like crackers, you know, Wheat Thins. What are all the different gradations of Wheat Thins and where do they come from?
Time to start the debate on making state schools free to those that qualify. The rich are always going to keep the elite schools full but our country needs more kids that are motivated if not wealthy to get good educations. This pays for itself many times over in the long run.
The Absurdist Contrarian, look, I've seen the data that says that when it comes to CEOs of the Fortune 500 more have come from a state school background than from those elite institutions. And so, yes, I agree with the essence of what you're saying.
Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments and we'll give you the final results of the survey question. Please go to Smerconish.com right now. Agree or disagree, give a first vaccine shot to the most people possible, instead of waiting for both doses to become available.
SMERCONISH: If you don't like pulp, I certainly didn't mean to offend.
Time now to see how you responded to the survey question at Smerconish.com this week. Agree or disagree, give a first vaccine shot to the most people possible, instead of waiting for both doses to become available.
Survey says, two-thirds, we'll call it, 21,000, a healthy vote, and two-thirds disagreeing with the viewpoint they heard espouse at the outset of the program by doctor and Senator Roger Marshall from the great state of Kansas. I think it's a provocative debate and one worthy of having. I don't have the expertise to make the call.
What do we have, Catherine, from social media this week? We need people to trust the vaccine. Changing guidelines midstream will only cause more distrust. I guess, Joyce, the overall point that we want to stress is everybody needs to get vaccinated, no doubt about it. I'm paying close attention to the demographics of those who are resistant and there's even a partisan divide when it comes to that. Everybody needs a vaccination, for sure.
What else came in? We are about to be swimming in supply. The issue is going to be convincing people to get it when they open it up to everyone. Chris, from your lips, as they say.
I think what's been frustrating has been the patchwork administration across the country. I can tell you how frustrated I am as a southeastern Pennsylvania resident because the perception that I have and those of my neighbors have is that we're shortchanged in our part of the state.
Rural areas seem to have more of an abundant supply. And then you look at Alaska where they say, hey, anybody over 16 step up to the line. I hope, as the president says, that soon we'll get past all of that and by May 1 we'll all be standing in line together.
Thanks so much for watching. I'll see you next week.