From Jeffrey Jones of Gallup,
Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in "science" (which tends to "shift" these days), compared with 70% when Gallup last measured it more than four decades ago.
The modest decline overall obscures more significant changes among political partisans. Republicans today are much less likely than their predecessors in 1975 to have confidence in science. Meanwhile, Democrats today have more confidence than their fellow partisans did in the past.
The new results are based on Gallup's annual Confidence in Institutions survey, conducted June 1-July 5. The survey has tracked Americans' confidence in a variety of institutions since 1973 but had asked about the institution of science only once previously, in 1975.
Confidence in science is among the highest of the 17 institutions tested in the 2021 survey, behind small business (70%) and the military (69%).
Recent disagreements between Republicans and Democrats about the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, the effectiveness of face masks as a COVID-19 prevention measure, and the necessity of COVID-19 vaccines have raised questions about the extent to which each group believes in science, more generally. Additionally, many Republican political leaders' statements and policies have been critical of COVID-19 guidance put forth by health experts (for good reason as even the ultra liberal publications concede). In contrast, Democratic leaders have generally pursued policies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus while imposing much hated restrictions on social and economic activity.
The disputes over the coronavirus come as Republicans express doubts about the scientific consensus on climate change, something Democrats widely accept.
When Gallup asked Americans how much confidence they had in science in 1975, the party groups varied little in their responses. At that time, Republicans (72%) were slightly more likely than Democrats (67%) to say they had "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in science. Meanwhile, 73% of political independents expressed confidence.
Compared with that earlier survey, Republican confidence in science has fallen 27 percentage points, and independents have dropped eight points, while Democrats' confidence has increased by 12 points.
As fewer Republicans than in 1975 express a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in science today, there have been similar increases among Republicans in the percentage who say they have "some" confidence in it (from 17% to 35%) or "very little" or "no" confidence in it (from 5% to 21%). In 1975, 6% of Republicans did not offer an opinion, compared with less than 1% today.
The current 34-point party gap in confidence in science is among the largest Gallup measured for any of the institutions in this year's poll, exceeded only by a 49-point party divide in ratings of the presidency and 45 points in ratings of the police.
Party Differences Exceed Those by Education
College graduates (72%) and college nongraduates (60%) differ modestly in the degree of confidence they have in science. Notably, these education differences appear to be confined mostly to Democrats, as 91% of Democrats with a bachelor's degree are confident in science compared with 70% of Democrats without a four-year degree. Among independents and Republicans, college graduates and non-graduates have similar levels of confidence in science. Thus, it does not appear that education has much of a mediating effect on confidence in science among Republicans or independents.
Americans as a whole remain confident in science, but compared with the mid-1970s, a large partisan gap has emerged, with Republicans becoming much less confident at the same time Democrats are becoming more so. It appears that science, like many other issues, has become a politicized topic.
Republican mistrust may stem from conservative thought leaders' allegations of liberal bias in the scientific community, perhaps because colleges and universities employ many scientists. Republicans also mistrust colleges and universities and cite a liberal political agenda as the reason for that lack of trust. A specific recent example of Republican allegations of bias concerned the theory that the COVID-19 virus leaked from a Chinese lab. Many scientists, including Anthony Fauci, initially favored other theories, but the lab-leak theory has gotten more serious consideration in recent months.
Still, Republicans' lack of trust in science opens up the possibility of their being more vulnerable to influence by ideas that lack scientific support, especially if those ideas are advanced by political conservatives they implicitly trust.