Republicans' and Democrats' Faith in Science at Widest Gap in 5 Decades, New Poll Shows

Republicans' and Democrats' faith in science is showing the widest gap seen in five decades, according to a new poll.

The 2021 General Social Survey data shows that 64 percent of Democrats had "a great deal" of confidence in the scientific community, compared with 34 percent of Republicans, according to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In 2018, the gap was much smaller, with 51 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of Republicans having a great deal of confidence.

Overall, 48 percent of Americans had a great deal of confidence in the scientific community in 2021, according to the survey. NORC at the University of Chicago, which has measured confidence in institutions since 1972, conducted the poll.

Another gap was seen in the two parties' confidence in medicine in 2021. While 34 percent of Republicans had a great deal of confidence, 45 percent of Democrats did. In 2018, there was nearly no gap at all, with 37 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans having great amount of confidence in medicine.

Thirty-eight percent of Americans overall had a great deal of confidence in medicine in 2021, according to the survey.

Partisan Gap, Faith in Science, 2021 Poll
Thirty-eight percent of Americans had a great deal of confidence in medicine in 2021, according to a new survey. Above, a phlebotomist collect vials of blood from a patient donating blood on January 11 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, said the data suggests Democrats and Republicans are following their leaders' cues, according to the AP.

"We've seen so much criticism (and worse) leveled at medical experts since the beginning of the pandemic from the former president, other Republican leaders and the conservative media, and just the opposite from the current president, Democratic leaders, and the mainstream and liberal media," Leiserowitz said.

National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt said that scientists and policymakers are generally conservative—meaning they are cautious—when pushing for masks, vaccines and safety, according to the AP. On the other hand, "Republicans as a group value individual liberty," she said.

"So no wonder that Republicans are less supportive of the scientifically conservative decisions in the face of uncertainty," McNutt said.

"It's easy in the abstract to trust science," said Sudip Parikh, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to the AP. "When there are things that come out of that, the data that challenge what you are hoping the policy answer would be, you get divergence from wanting to trust the science."