When it comes to polling Americans’ views on science, surveys often offer very different results based on the wording of the question. Gallup, for example, has published a series of reports over the years that suggest a plurality of Americans is, in effect, creationists.
A new Pew Research Center report approached the issue a little differently and found slightly less discouraging results: a 60% majority of Americans agree that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while 33% reject evolutionary biology, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”
Whether one is relieved or discouraged that “only” a third of the country doesn’t believe in modern biology is a matter of perspective.
But as is often the case on so many issues, there are stark partisan differences within the results. Among Americans who identify themselves as Democrats or Independents, support for biology has been rather steady since the last Pew Research poll on this issue in 2009, with about two-thirds of each group on board with life evolving over time.
Among self-identified Republicans, however, acceptance of biology has suffered a noticeable drop, from 54% four years ago to 43% now. Indeed, note that in 2009, most Republicans believed in evolution, while in 2013, most Republicans don’t.
In other words, there’s a science gap driven by politics – the Democratic advantage on embracing modern biology is now 24 points – and it’s getting worse, not better.
This does help explain, by the way, why prominent Republican officials – Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, et al – seem entirely comfortable making public comments expressing skepticism, if not outright hostility, towards evolution. They apparently realize they’re simply keeping pace with their party’s rank-and-file supporters.
Regardless, the larger trend just isn’t healthy for anyone. There are so many political, policy, and cultural issues that divide partisans, but scientific truths need not be one of them. We’re quickly approaching the point – if we haven’t arrived there already – at which science itself is broadly accepted and understood as a “Democratic issue,” abandoned altogether by Republicans hostile to reason and evidence.
As we discussed in November, a few years ago, the Pew Research Center found that only 6% of self-identified scientist say they tend to support Republican candidates. That total now appears likely to drop to new depths in the coming years.
Asked to explain the trend, Brigham Young University scientist Barry Bickmore, a onetime Republican convention delegate, recently told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Scientists just don’t get those people,” referencing Republicans who adhere to party orthodoxy on climate change, evolution, and other hot-button issues. “They [in the GOP] are driving us away, people like me.”