Evolution, among scientists, is a relatively non-controversial topic. While there are different schools of thought about how evolution happened, scientists largely agree that it did happen. The rest of the public, however, isn’t nearly as sure and a new poll from Pew Research Center finds that members of the Republican party really have their doubts.
For some reason, Republicans are now 20 percent less likely to accept the reality of evolution than they were just a short four years ago.
In a 2009 Pew poll, 54 percent of respondents identifying as Republicans said they accepted that evolution, the process by which complex life forms descend over time from less complex ones, was a scientific fact. But in the newly released poll, Pew found only 43 percent of Republican party members agreeing that evolution was a valid theory.
That is a drop of 11 percentage points, but it also represents a plunge in which approximately one in every five Republicans who said four years ago that they accepted evolution now say they do not — a 20 percent fall-off.
Pew researchers wondered whether the new low was due to an increasing number of religious fundamentalists identifying themselves as Republicans. But when they ran the numbers, they found that was not the case.
“Differences in the racial and ethnic composition of Democrats and Republicans or differences in their levels of religious commitment do not wholly explain partisan differences in beliefs about evolution,” they wrote in their report issued Monday. “Indeed, the partisan differences remain even when taking these other characteristics into account.”
Atlantic Monthly also wondered what accounted for the drop, speculating that perhaps many Republicans who said they accepted evolution in 2009 still accept evolution but are no longer Republicans, having since left the party.
“Fewer scientists, for example, are reportedly identifying with the GOP,” wrote Atlantic Associate Editor David A. Graham. “And the overall trend is for fewer Americans to call themselves Republicans.”
Zack Beauchamp, a reporter and blogger for the liberal ThinkProgress web site, has another, more complicated theory to explain the sudden rejection of evolution by a large swath of the Republican party.
“A wealth of research into political psychology shows that people’s partisan affiliations affect their beliefs on basic facts,” wrote Beauchamp on Tuesday. “Republicans are overwhelmingly more likely to think the economy is doing well when Republicans hold the Presidency, and ditto with Democrats when their guy holds the White House.”
Republicans, he speculates, have grown more likely to reject the theory of evolution simply because that, in their view, that is what Republicans are supposed to believe.
In other words, the writer concludes, “Politics, it seems, really does ruin everything — including science.”