New survey results reveal Americans have a stark partisan divide when it comes their faith in science, with the COVID-19 pandemic widening that gap.
The General Social Survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, published its 2021 results and it showed a widening polarization of views on certain topics, like science and medicine. The group has been conducting a series of nationally representative cross-sectional interviews in the U.S. since 1972 of adults 18 years old and older.
Overall, about 48 percent of Americans said they have “a great deal” of confidence in the scientific community. However, about 64 percent of Democrats indicated the same thing, while only 34 percent of Republicans said they had a “great deal” of confidence in the scientific community.
According to The Associated Press (AP), that partisan gap was much smaller in 2018 when it came to confidence in the scientific community, with 51 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of Republicans supporting that statement.
Similar trends were found when respondents were asked about their confidence in medicine, with 45 percent of Democrats indicating they had a great deal of confidence while only 34 percent of Republicans said the same thing.
“We are living at a time when people would rather put urine or cleaning chemicals in their body than scientifically vetted vaccines. That is a clear convergence of fear, lack of critical thinking, confirmation bias and political tribalism,” said Marshall Shepherd, meteorology professor at the University of Georgia, to the AP.
Kelvin Droegemeier, former science adviser to former President Trump, also told the AP that he thinks the coronavirus pandemic gave the public a better view of how scientific research works, including how quickly science can evolve and sometimes become chaotic.
“We hear ‘follow the science,’ but which results? The challenge lies in how to best use the scientific results, recognizing that what appears to be an ‘answer’ one day may be overturned, wholly or partly, another day,” said Droegemeier to the AP.
The issue of face masks followed a similar pattern to what Droegemeier described, when multiple health experts in January said cloth face masks won’t provide sufficient protection against the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Many experts recommended N95 masks that offer a 95 percent filtration rate. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director Rochelle Walensky reiterated that her agency’s guidance on what masks should be worn would not be changing.
Interestingly, one expert noted that scientists and policy makers tend to be conservative, not politically speaking, when it comes to measures like masks and vaccines, while “Republicans as a group value individual liberty,” said Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, to the AP.
“So no wonder that Republicans are less supportive of the scientifically conservative decisions in the face of uncertainty,” she told the AP.
A separate analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in November 2021 found that unvaccinated adults were more than three times as likely to lean Republican than Democratic.
That’s risky, as the current wave of the coronavirus pandemic is being driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant, which accounts for 99 percent of all U.S. cases.
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