Research & Insights

In Science We Trust

For many science geeks, the image of the Republican Party has been tarnished in recent years by its seemingly extreme anti-science views.

However, a new study suggests that Republican views toward science and policy are similar to those of Independents, both are relatively receptive to using science as a starting point for policy. Instead, it’s Democrats who are the outliers, trusting scientific expertise more than others, according to researchers Joshua M. Blank and Daron Shaw. These findings were published in the March 2015 issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

The researchers gathered survey data from over 2,000 Americans. Participants were asked a series of questions regarding their political ideology, education levels and religious beliefs.

They also ranked how much they thought that policymakers should follow the advice of scientists on a variety of issues, such as same-sex adoption, climate change, nuclear power and the use of animal testing for medical studies.

Importantly, a variety of issues were chosen to ensure push-back from both Democrats and Republicans, such as climate change for conservatives and bioengineered food and crops for liberals.

Conservative and Independent participants were less likely to act on science on “issues that touch on matters of religious faith (gay adoption, evolution) or political ideology (mandatory health insurance).”

However, people across the political spectrum believed policymakers should take into account the science on most issues, at the very least “weighing it equally with other factors.”

Democrats in the study consistently deferred to the science across every issue. “It is the relative prescience attitudes of Democrats that stand in contrast to the rest of the population, not the anti-science attitudes of Republicans,” explain the researchers.

This was true even on issues where Democrats were expected to be skeptical of the scientific consensus, like nuclear power.

“What science has to say about an issue appears to be a reasonable starting point for lawmakers or bureaucrats seeking to forge consensus on a given issue,” the researchers explain. Although the public likely won’t agree on every issue – particularly highly politicized ones and ones touching on faith.

Lastly, because liberals put so much faith in science, “if you want to get Democrats on your side, you may want to use scientific research to back up your policy positions.”

The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 

Joshua M. Blank, The Texas Politics Project
Daron Shaw, University of Texas at Austin

Posted: May 5, 2016
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