Poll shows very high support from all voters for including science in debates

New Poll: Even religious voters overwhelmingly want candidates to debate science

A national public opinion poll was conducted online in March 2012 by JZ Analytics for ScienceDebate.org in partnership with Research!America. The poll had a sample size of 1,005 likely U.S. voters with a theoretical sampling error of +/-3.2%. It revealed some surprisingly high support for science in the U.S. among three political affliations.

85% of all likely voters agree that the candidates for president should participate in a debate to discuss the key science-based challenges facing the United States. These challenges include healthcare, climate change, energy, education, innovation, and the economy.

In 2008, the candidates for president refused to participate in a nationally televised science debate, opting instead for faith forums. But the survey shows this interesting result: 84% of all likely voters rank a science debate as important. 52% rank a faith and values debate as important. Founder of Science Debate 2008, Shawn Otto remarks:

“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.”

Percentages between Democrats and Republicans were not that different. However, I do wonder, noting the more revealing categories of conservative vs liberal vs moderate used in the Gauchat survey, what THAT version would show. For example, would people want to see a debate if they felt that science was simply not important to inform their views? That is, conservative who are more accepting of faith-based views? The poll included a category in one question of “Born again” or “Non-born again”. As would be expected, the “born again” people did appear to value science views less.

Or, does the majority want to see science debate so they would know who NOT to vote for. It seems that idea is NOT supported since: 81% of all likely voters say that public policies should be based on science, not the personal opinions or beliefs of elected officials.

This is an interesting survey. Although, it does not speak well for spending on space exploration or cutting spending on defense, it does suggest that a large majority values science. That does conflict with previous surveys that show this but that attitudes may declining among some. Or, perhaps once again, apples and oranges are being compared. It’s hard to tell when a survey is framed in such a way. Seriously, not TOO many people come out and say they are against science and do not advocate its use. This survey says nothing about how much people understand what is meant by “using science” to inform policy. So, we could just be seeing support for science “as you like it”. But the survey results are strong enough to REALLY be a hammer when advocating for such a debate and to toss out the nonsensical faith forums. A positive sign. For the report results, right click here and save PDF.

  6 comments for “Poll shows very high support from all voters for including science in debates

  1. April 4, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    Does anyone seriously think this is the correct interpretation of this result?

    “81% of Republican voters say it is inappropriate for elected officials to hold back or interfere with scientific
    reports that conflict with their own views, compared to just 75% of Democrats. This suggests Republican
    voters may be unhappy with Republican politicians who deny the conclusions of mainstream science.”

    First, the “should policy be based on science?” question is akin to asking “Are you racist?” Of course people going to answer in a certain way when it is a very vague question, not tied to more real issues, that has an obvious good vs. bad answer.

    Second, I’d be shocked if much of the support from this poll is not like what we’ve seen in some of the comments here, focusing on outrage over supposed climate change fraud by scientists. I very strongly suspect that if this poll actually asked about some specific issues, it would be much easier to interpret, with very different findings. But then, I think this poll had a clear purpose aimed at having a debate. And if you don’t think such a debate is going to look disastrous (especially if it is “town hall” style), well, maybe we’ll see.

  2. April 4, 2012 at 7:54 PM

    I agree. It was a “framed” survey. Not many are going to say they disapprove of education or child care or those other feel good things, but like I said, they want science THEIR way, to support their causes. Everyone wants the authority of science on their side that’s why the “merchants of doubt” get scientists for hire to infiltrate it. I’m not sure the public knows how weird that is.

  3. April 4, 2012 at 8:24 PM

    Ok, I went and looked at their website, and they’ve got a lot of well-known names. And they seem well-meaning. But they also seem hopelessly stuck in the dreams of the 20th century that this can all just be fixed through more awareness and education, and through rational policy making. But that’s not America in the 21st century.

    I routinely have this discussion with an acquaintance of mine, who is professionally involved in politics in Canada. He keeps talking about policy and budgets and such, and I keep trying to explain to him that none of this matters in America anymore, that understanding culture and belief is a far more important key to our society than is rational economic choice. He continues to be appalled, but he’s no longer surprised, and I don’t have to keep “I told you so”ing him these last few months.

  4. Verklagekasper
    April 5, 2012 at 6:02 AM

    Science isn’t a cure for everything, nor is it a “value”. It provides facts and data, that’s all. It doesn’t help making political decisions, which are about finding a balance in the face of opposing goals and interests rather than finding “the truth”. That poll is just science-mystifying nonsense.

  5. Stew Green
    April 6, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    – Why is anyone wasting their time to analyses this
    ..Look at the first 2 lines “Poll shows very high support from all voters for including science in debates”
    PAID FOR by “ScienceDebate.org in partnership with Research!America.”

    equivalent to “poll paid tobacco company says cigarettes are great”

    What did you expect “poll paid for by ScienceDebate.org says people say debating science is a waste of time” ?

  6. April 6, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    Stew: You have to quit overreacting. In order to get the data you need, you often have to pay for it. THEY DIDN’T CONDUCT THE SURVEY. That was a third party survey company. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it could not be done another way that I can imagine.

    A lot of science is funded by corporate interests. In some case, when it doesn’t come out as they wish, it gets file-drawered. But, in some cases it will answer their questions positively and they want to share. We can pick at it and doubt, but I don’t think we can discard it outright just because we don’t like who paid for it.

    You must consider funding as a potential bias, absolutely. But you can’t simply discard the results that were done by a THIRD PARTY. I think there are other biases for any survey just based on human social interactions. However, the results here were pretty substantial. If someone else, like a religious organization wanted to fund such a study, they could. That would be interesting. I’d like to see the results of that.

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