May 1, 2017

Democrats far more supportive than Republicans of federal spending for scientific research

There is a wide and growing partisan gap in the U.S. over how much government should spend for scientific research.

Six-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents back increased federal spending for scientific research, up from 46% four years ago. But just a third of Republicans and Republican leaners support increased spending for scientific research today, up modestly from 25% in 2013.

Among the public overall, 48% of Americans say they would increase spending for scientific research, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April, up 11 percentage points since 2013. Just 12% of Americans say scientific research funding should be decreased, and roughly four-in-ten (38%) think it should stay the same.

The partisan gap in views of spending for scientific research has grown steadily over time. In 2001, there was no significant divide between parties over federal spending for scientific research. Since then, Republican support trended steadily downward before a modest uptick in recent years, while Democratic support remained relatively steady before rising significantly in the current survey. The partisan gap in support for more spending was 16 percentage points in 2011 and now stands at 27 points.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget in March raised the possibility of deep funding cuts for a number of federal agencies with science research missions, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and NASA. According to analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the president’s proposed budget would lead to some of the deepest cuts for science and engineering research in more than 40 years. Concerns over the funding outlook for scientific research were among issues raised by people participating in the March for Science held April 22.

Scientific research is one of many program areas, including veterans benefits, infrastructure, environmental protection and poverty assistance, in which a significantly greater share of the public now backs increased government spending than did so in 2013.

Partisan divides over budget issues are not limited to scientific research. Republicans are less likely than Democrats to back increased spending on 11 of the 14 program areas in the survey. There are two areas where Republicans are more likely than Democrats to support federal spending increases: military defense and anti-terrorism spending.

Topics: U.S. Political Parties, Political Attitudes and Values, Government Spending and the Deficit, Science and Innovation, Political Polarization

  1. Photo of Cary Funk

    is director of science and society research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous3 months ago

    Considering how much the ROI is on military spending I can’t imagine government spending on research will provide better results. Socialism doesn’t work, we all know that. The great wealth and success of the USA isn’t due to bigger government it’s based on the ability to succeed personally. What’s the incentive to succeed with government research vs the private sector? It’s not always wealth, it’s the freedom and accomplishment that comes with success.

    It’s easy to name a few technologies we use that came out of government spending but the patent database tells a much different story of individuals in the private sector creating the technology and economy we enjoy today.

  2. Anonymous3 months ago

    I can’t help but wonder if the Republican-leaning respondents knew about inventions, medicines, etc., that exist today precisely because of government financial support for scientific research. Some of the things they take for granted every day — the internet, Apple’s Siri, AIDS treatments, data storage, cancer drugs, baby formula, weather forecasting, and on and on — exist because federal dollars were spent. I would strongly suspect not.

  3. Packard Day3 months ago

    Asking whether an individual supports federal spending for scientific research is a bit like asking whether a person supports homeless veterans, clean water, motherhood, apple pie, public education, and little puppy dogs? Who doesn’t?_________________It might prove far more informative to ask the actual recipients of the several multi billion dollar federal science/education/social programs to demonstrate any measurable value of their research/work.

    1. Jon L (Red Rock)3 months ago

      Packard Day nailed it. When we read about gender studies on glaciers (yes, that was a real study/paper although I don’t know who funded it) anyone with more than a few functioning neurons should begin to question what this money is being used for. Republicans in general have become more skeptical about federal spending for most things because of the endless revelations of abuse, fraud and partisan funding. Finally, how about including “independents” in the poll. They make up a huge portion of the electorate. Whys is everything reduced to Dems vs Reps?