The survey question was very simple: How much should a politician defer to the science community in making policy decisions?
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin asked 2,000 registered voters this question on a variety of issues — such as global warming/climate change, health insurance, and stem-cell research. The results, recently published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, show that, yes, Democrats do show stronger support for the scientific community across all topics surveyed.
But here's the point worth thinking about: That does not necessarily mean that Republicans are anti-science across the board. The topics on which Republicans were most likely to have doubts on are "gay adoption," "mandatory health insurance," and "teaching evolution and the origins of humans." These topics are hostile to a traditionally conservative worldview. (Also recently published in the Annals, was a study showing that liberals can also exhibit a similar, but smaller, anti-science bias when presented with information that is hostile to the liberal worldview.) But overall, Republicans generally support scientific expertise.
"It is the relative pro-science attitudes of Democrats that stand in contrast to the rest of the population and not the anti-science attitudes of Republicans," the study notes. "Republicans rate their own deference to science at or above the midpoint of 5.0 for all but four of the sixteen issues." Which is to say, most of the time, Republicans' gut instinct is to trust science. Yes, the exceptions to Republicans' trust in science are particularly significant and bewildering to Democrats. Think of Sen. Jim Inhofe throwing a snowball in the Senate chamber to disprove climate change. He said it was unseasonal for it to snow in February. February!
The silver lining for Democrats in this research is that it isn't impossible to engage Republicans on science. It just depends on the issue.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.