New Poll: Even religious voters overwhelmingly want candidates to debate science
Consensus among Protestants, Catholics for science debates, science-based policies; Twice as many think the US not spending enough on alternative energy as do defense
Apr 03, 2012 | ScienceDebate.org
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Contact: Shawn Lawrence Otto
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WASHINGTON (April 3, 2012) — In a surprising rebuff of recent political wisdom that Republicans and religiously affiliated voters are becoming “anti-science,” eighty-two percent of Catholics and eighty-three percent of Protestants say it is more important that the candidates for president debate the major science challenges facing the United States than it is they debate faith and values, according to a new national public opinion poll (PDF) of attitudes about science, faith and public policy commissioned by ScienceDebate.org.
Respondents ranked science third in importance as a presidential debate theme, ahead of the environment, and far ahead of faith and values, which forty-nine percent of Catholics and fifty-nine percent of Protestants rated as important, but below the economy and taxes, and national security, which ranked one and two respectively. Even Born Again Protestants rated a presidential science debate more important overall than a faith and values debate, but they felt more strongly than non Born Agains about faith and values and national security issues.
This consensus was similar among all likely voters: eighty-five percent agreed that the presidential candidates should participate in a science debate to discuss key science-based challenges facing the United States, such as healthcare, climate change, energy, education, and innovation and the economy. Eighty-nine percent of Democrats and eighty-three percent of Republicans also agreed. There were no major differences by gender, with eighty-three percent of men and eighty-five percent of women agreeing.
Alternative energy is weighing heavily on voters’ minds. Fifty-three percent of all likely US voters rank developing alternative energy as a top US spending priority, second only to paying down the federal deficit. This is about twice the number of voters that think the government is not spending enough on national defense or space exploration. Funding science and math education came in fourth, just behind investing in roads and bridges, and scientific research was fifth.
The survey reveals deep concerns among Americans about their country’s ability to maintain leadership in science. Just forty-two percent of likely voters believe the United States will remain the world leader in science just eight years from now, and eighty-five percent are concerned that an uncertain future for science funding in the US will cause scientists to leave their jobs or move to other countries.
A similar consensus exists among respondents – both overall and among Catholics and Protestants – that public policies should be based on the best available science and not the personal opinions or beliefs of elected officials, said ScienceDebate.org cofounder Shawn Lawrence Otto, who said the views could have an impact on major science-driven policies such as whether and how to address climate change.
“Basing public policies on science instead of beliefs or opinions is clearly of great importance to large majorities of Americans,” added Otto. “Even though we often hear of faith opposing science in the political arena, these findings show that that perception isn’t necessarily true. Americans realize that so many of the most serious problems the country is facing revolve around science, that science is itself an American value, and they want to know what kind of commitment and judgment the candidates for president are going to show in actually doing something about them. That’s why science debates should be a normal part of the political process.”
Eighty-one percent of Republicans also said it is inappropriate for elected officials to hold back or interfere with scientific reports that conflict with their own views, along with just seventy-five percent of Democrats.
ScienceDebate.org is a 501(C)3 nonprofit dedicated to elevating the role of science in American public dialogue. In 2008, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain answered online questions from ScienceDebate.org. Obama’s answers formed the early basis for the Obama science policy.
The poll was conducted online by JZ Analytics (John Zogby, Senior Analyst) in partnership with Research!America and ScienceDebate.org. There were 1005 respondents for a margin of error of +/- 3.2%. More details of the methodology together with the headlines can be found at http://www.sciencedebate.org/assets/downloads/ScienceDebate2012Poll.pdf.