July 3, 2018

Americans broadly favor government funding for medical and science research

Biologist Benjamin Jin conducts immunotherapy research for fighting HPV+ cancers in a lab at the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, on Feb. 7, as part of government-funded experimental trials. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Americans are strongly supportive of the government investing in research in medicine and science, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Most Americans say government investments in medical and science research usually pay offAround eight-in-ten U.S. adults say government investments in medical research (80%), engineering and technology (80%) or basic scientific research (77%) usually pay off in the long run. Only about two-in-ten believe government funding in each of these areas is not worth it (19% for medical research, 19% for engineering and technology and 22% for basic scientific research).

Pew Research Center surveys in 2014 and 2009 also found broad public support for government investments in basic scientific research and engineering and technology, though those surveys used different polling methods and somewhat different question wording. (Views on funding for medical research were not included in the past surveys.)

Majorities of political groups support basic scientific research funding, especially liberal DemocratsMajorities across the political spectrum agree that government investments in medical research, engineering and technology or basic scientific research pay off in the long run, although there are political differences on these questions. For instance, 92% of liberal Democrats say government investments in basic scientific research ultimately pay off. By comparison, 61% of conservative Republicans say government investments in basic research pay off, while a sizable minority (38%) says government investments in basic scientific research “aren’t worth it.”

A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found a wide and growing political divide over increasing federal spending on scientific research. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were 27 percentage points more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say they would increase spending on scientific research. In 2001, by contrast, there was no significant divide between Republicans and Democrats over increasing federal spending for scientific research.

The new survey also asked Americans to weigh the importance of government versus private investment in research funding. A majority of Americans (57%) say government funding is essential for scientific progress, while 42% say private funding will ensure enough progress even without government funding. The share saying government investment is essential is broadly consistent with previous Pew Research Center surveys that again used different survey methods and somewhat different question wording.

Two-thirds of conservative Republicans say private investment will ensure enough scientific progressLiberal Democrats and conservative Republicans have different views on this question. About eight-in-ten liberal Democrats (78%) say government funding of research is essential for scientific progress. By contrast, 31% of conservative Republicans say government investment is essential, while two-thirds (67%) say private investment will ensure enough progress is made, even without government funding.

Note: See topline results and methodology here

Topics: Federal Government, Science and Innovation

  1. Photo of Brian Kennedy

    is a research associate focusing on science and society at Pew Research Center.