Public attitudes about climate change and energy policy are strongly intertwined with political party affiliation and ideology. But politics play a more modest, or even peripheral, role on public views about other key issues related to biomedical science, food safety and space, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.
The chart below highlights the wide mix of factors tied to public attitudes across a broad set of 22 science issues. It illustrates the strength of connection between political affiliation and opinion, and it shows issues for which other factors -- such as educational attainment, knowledge about science, religious affiliation or demographic characteristics -- are strongly tied to the public's views.
"In this politically polarized culture, there is a strong temptation to think that people's partisan connections and their ideology dominate their thinking about every civic issue," said Cary Funk, associate director for science research and lead author of the new Pew Research analysis. "What's striking about these findings is that politics sometimes is at the center of the story about public attitudes and sometimes politics has very little to do with the way people think about science issues in the public arena. We find there are striking differences that center on age, educational attainment, gender, and race and ethnicity."
The broad pattern is that climate and energy issues are highly politicized, whereas issues tied to biomedical science, food safety and space policy often are strongly tied to other, nonpolitical, factors. For example, 71% of Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party say the Earth is warming due to human activity, compared with 27% of their Republican counterparts (a difference of 44 percentage points). The analysis uses statistical modeling that shows these differences hold, even when taking into account the differing characteristics of Democrats and Republicans, such as their different age and racial profiles.
There are a host of other science issues for which political factors either share influence with other traits or simply don't matter. For example, party and ideology are among several factors that influence public views about human evolution. Those other independent predictors of people's views include religious affiliation, age, level of education, specific science knowledge and gender. Furthermore, there are no differences between the major political party affiliation groups on views about the use of animals in research, the safety of eating genetically modified (GM) foods and whether to allow access to experimental drug treatments before those treatments have been shown to be safe and effective.
Among other major findings:
There are large and persistent gaps tied to generational differences on climate and energy issues and occasionally on other topics, such as views about childhood vaccines.
There are substantial differences between younger and older Americans that are independent of their political beliefs, education levels or other factors.
Education is especially linked to public views about the use of animals in research, the safety of eating genetically modified foods and nuclear power.
One widely discussed idea is that educational and science knowledge differences play a central role in the public's beliefs about science topics. On the science issues probed here, differences in views by education level are substantial on some topics. Specifically:
The Pew Research survey included a set of six science knowledge questions in order to evaluate whether people who know more about science, regardless of how much formal schooling they have had, hold different attitudes about science topics. Those with more science knowledge are more likely than those with less knowledge to say eating GM foods and eating foods grown with pesticides are safe. Those with more science knowledge are especially likely to see bioengineered artificial organs for human transplant as an appropriate use of medical advances (85% compared with 65% of those with less science knowledge).
There are gender gaps on a number of science-related topics, including animal research, food safety, energy and space issues, even after controlling for political leanings and other factors.
Some science-related topics elicit wide differences of opinion across racial and ethnic groups.
Differences in religious affiliation and worship service attendance are central to the public's views on a handful of science topics; foremost among these are beliefs about human evolution. A follow-up report will go into more detail on religious groups' views about all of these topics.
The analysis in this report relies primarily on data from a Pew Research Center survey of the general public, using a probability-based sample of the adult population by landline and cellular telephone Aug. 15-25, 2014, with a representative sample of 2,002 adults nationwide. The margin of sampling error for results based on all adults is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. This survey of the general public, along with a companion survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), was conducted by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the AAAS.
Further information: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/07/01/americans-politics-and-science-issues/
Materials provided by Pew Research Center. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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