By: Jingwei Zhao
Following the pandemic, trust in science in the US has diverged along political lines, with the Democrats becoming more confident in the subject and the Republicans slowly losing hope. Americans have been losing confidence in the science community over the past few years, with the 48% of citizens that had “a great deal of confidence” in 2018 decreasing to a mere 39% in 2021. 48% of adults are more neutral, replying with only “some confidence,” and 13% answered with “hardly any.”
The low confidence levels can especially be seen among the Republicans, due to partisan gaps arising since Covid-19. Jennifer Benz, the deputy director of Associated Press-NORC for Public Research Affairs, explains, “It doesn’t look all that dramatic when you just look at the trends for the overall public. But when you dig into that by people’s political affiliations, there’s a really stark downturn and polarization.”
There has been speculation about the reasons why the democrats’ confidence in science has not decreased much, such as “rallying” for more Covid-19 vaccines and safety precautions. Before the pandemic, 55% democrats had confidence in science, which has barely fallen to 53% as of 2022.
However, the Republicans had a significant change of opinions, as they have dropped from 45% to 22% through 2018 – 2022. Overall, Americans have lost a little confidence in science, with a five percent decrease before to after the pandemic. This is something that both major political parties have experienced as well, despite one being much worse than the other.
Scientists were one of the more trusted groups in the U.S, but the impact of political parties has taken a toll on peoples’ opinions. For Sudip Parikh, CEO of the American Assn., the drops were “disappointing but not surprising.” He believes that this had led to a part of an “overall pulling apart of our communities” and loss of trust in many institutions, not just science. For example, approval of the Supreme Court has reached its lowest point in the last 50 years, and trust in education, and organized religion has decreased as well.
To combat this distrust, John Bensley, who studies about public opinion on science, wants scientists to communicate more about their ideas, rather than keeping them a secret. This would show that “we have some expertise ...we’re using that expertise to try to make the world better,” he said.