November 9, 2015

Majority of Americans say scientists don’t have an ideological slant

Most Americans say they think of scientists as neither politically liberal nor conservative, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Overall, Most Americans View Scientists as Neither Liberal Nor ConservativeThe sharp political divide between Republicans and Democrats on issues such as climate change raises the question of whether a wide range of Americans’ attitudes about science – and scientists – are viewed through a political lens.

Our survey of 2,002 adults nationwide, conducted in August 2014, suggests that’s not the case.

Some 64% of Americans perceive scientists as neither liberal nor conservative. Another 24% of adults think scientists are politically liberal and 7% say scientists are politically conservative. While the perception of scientists as politically liberal outnumbers the share saying scientists are conservative, these perceptions are roughly the same as in a 2009 Pew Research survey.

A majority of both Democrats and Republicans think of scientists in ideologically neutral terms. But the view that scientists are generally liberal has grown among those who are, themselves, near the ends of the political spectrum.

Americans at Ends of Political Spectrum More Likely to View Scientists as Liberal Some 42% of conservative Republicans think of scientists as politically liberal, up 14 percentage points from 28% in 2009. At the other end of the spectrum, liberal Democrats are also more likely than in 2009 to perceive scientists as generally liberal – 30% do so, up from 21%. The views among other party/ideology groups have stayed roughly the same over this time period, however.

Our report earlier this year found that even though Americans have become more divided in recent decades into ideological “silos,” the role of politics in views of science topics is not uniformly tied to party and ideological differences.

Although Americans’ political leanings do influence their views about issues such as climate change and energy policy, they are much less of a factor when it comes to issues such as food safety, space exploration and biomedicine. At the same time, other factors, such as racial and generational differences, shape the public’s often-complex views on science matters.

Topics: Energy and Environment, Science and Innovation

  1. is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Cary Funk

    is an associate director for research at Pew Research Center.

5 Comments

  1. Uno Who11 months ago

    How about surveying the beliefs of climate “scientists” to find out what political stripe they are?

    1. Johnny Wilson11 months ago

      This is from a 2009 Pew Study: “Most scientists identify as Democrats (55%), while 32% identify as independents and just 6% say they are Republicans. When the leanings of independents are considered, fully 81% identify as Democrats or lean to the Democratic Party, compared with 12% who either identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP.”

      people-press.org/2009/07/09/sect…

    2. Gman11 months ago

      Good question!

    3. Russ Butler4 months ago

      If you knew what “belief” a scientist had, how would that help to find out what political stripe they are?

      Are you suggesting that a scientist would let his belief in supernatural beings sway his ability to accurately analyze and scrutinize scientific evidence? Then they wouldn’t be scientists right?

  2. Packard Day11 months ago

    Scientists are human. As such, they are similarly prone to the biases and emotions that afflict the rest of us… “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Upton Sinclair…I might add, the same applies when a man’s net worth, his professional reputation, and his long term membership in a particular ideological community are also involved when examining a complex scientific dilemma or problem [Moral: Deo confidimus, everyone else however, must use data that can be replicated by independant means.].