Do people trust scientists? Those with Right-wing political ideology often less trusting than Leftists: Survey
Conducted before the Covid-19 outbreak reached pandemic proportions, the report is based on a survey of more than 32,000 telephone and in-person interviews
As people globally look to scientists and medical experts to find new treatments and vaccines against Covid-19, an international survey reveals that scientists and their research are widely viewed in a positive light, and large majorities believe government investments in scientific research yield benefits for society. However, public trust in scientists is often higher for those with Left-wing political views than the believers in the Right-wing stance, according to the analysis by Pew Research Center.
While there is a positive tilt toward public trust in scientists, the trust often varies with ideology. In general, the Leftists express more trust in scientists than the Rightists. Such differences are especially pronounced in the US, where 62% of Leftists have a lot of trust in scientists, compared with two-in-ten (20%) of the Right-wing believers. The gap is similar factoring in party identification: 67% of liberal Democrats in the US say they have a lot of trust in scientists, compared with 17% of conservative Republicans, explain researchers. Left-right divides are also present in many other places. In Canada, 74% of those who believe in Left-wing politics say they have a lot of trust in scientists to do what is right, compared with 35% of Canadians with Right-leaning political views. In the UK, there's a 27-point difference between the shares of those with the believers of Left and Right ideologies who have a lot of trust in scientists. Germany (17 points), Sweden (15 points), and Spain (10 points) are some of the other places where those believing in the Left-wing are more trusting of scientists than those with the Right-wing leniency.
“The survey finds that at this important moment for science and scientists, political views color baseline levels of trust in scientists in the US – but also elsewhere in the world, including Canada, the UK, and Germany. It can be harder to find common ground on issues where there are wide political differences. Center surveys in the US have found growing political differences over many aspects of the coronavirus outbreak, including the degree to which the disease poses a threat to public health,” Cary Funk, director of science and society research at Pew, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
The poll — conducted in the US, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and Taiwan — is an in-depth examination of international public attitudes toward scientists and scientific topics. Conducted before the Covid-19 outbreak reached pandemic proportions, the report is based on a survey of more than 32,000 telephone and in-person interviews.
Public trust in scientists rivaled that in military
Scientists as a group are highly regarded, compared with other prominent groups and institutions in society. In all places surveyed, the majority have at least some trust or a lot of trust in scientists to do what is right. A median of 36% has “a lot” of trust in scientists, the same share who say this about the military, and much higher than the shares who say this about business leaders, the national government, and the news media.
However, the relative standing of trust in the military and scientists varies from place to place. In eight of the places surveyed, the military is more trusted than scientists, including in India, the US and Russia. “By contrast, in six publics – all in Europe, including the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany – greater shares have a lot of trust in scientists than in the military to do what is right. In five publics, no one group is trusted more than another, and trust in the military and scientists tends to be about the same,” says the study.
The analysis finds differences by political ideology in views of scientists, as well as the military, with those who associate themselves with the Left of a scale of political ideology often expressing more trust in scientists – and less trust in the military – than those with Right-wing beliefs. Majorities of those who identify themselves as Left-leaning in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK, say they have a lot of trust in scientists to do what is right for the public, while fewer than half say this about the military. The pattern is the reverse among those on the political right. In the US, for instance, 75% of those on the right express the highest level of trust in the military, compared with 20% who have a lot of trust in scientists.
The differences by political ideology do not strongly extend to other views of scientists or experts. For instance, there are generally modest or no Left-Right differences in views of whether scientists tend to make judgements based solely on the facts or are just as likely to be biased as other people. In most places, there is general agreement across the political spectrum that, when it comes to solving pressing problems, it is better to rely on people with practical experience than on people with expertise. A median of 66% say it is better to rely on people with practical experience to solve pressing problems, while a median of 28% say it’s better to rely on people who are considered experts about the problems, even if they do not have much practical experience. But the publics’ assessments of their own achievements in science do not always measure up to their aspirations: A median of 42% say their scientific achievements are above average or the best in the world. However, the shares holding this view ranges from 8% in Brazil to 61% each in the US and the UK.
Overall, there is broad agreement among the 20 countries that government investment in scientific research is worthwhile: a median of 82% say government investments in scientific research aimed at advancing knowledge are usually worthwhile for society over time. In the US, about 82% say this.
Many see childhood vaccines bringing high preventive health benefits
With renewed attention to the importance of public acceptance of vaccines, the new survey finds that most tend to view childhood vaccines, such as that for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), as relatively safe and effective, but some doubts about safety and effectiveness remain. A median of 61% say the preventive health benefits of such vaccines are high, and a median of 55% think there is no or only a low risk of side effects. Seven-in-ten Americans say the preventive health benefits from the MMR vaccine are high, while six-in-ten rate the risk of side effects from the MMR vaccine as low or none.
Concerns around climate change are widespread
In most places, the majority view climate change as a very serious problem, say their government is not doing enough to address it, and point to a host of environmental concerns at home, including air and water quality and pollution. A median of 71% would prioritize protecting the environment, even if it causes slower economic growth. In the US, 64% think protecting the environment should be given priority, even if it causes slower economic growth and some loss of jobs. A smaller share (31%) thinks creating jobs should be the top priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent.
About 70% of those surveyed say they are experiencing a great deal or some effects of climate change where they live. In the US, about six-in-ten (59%) say climate change is affecting where they live a great deal (24%) or some (35%).
Government action on climate change is widely seen as lacking: a 20-public median of 58% say their national government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change. In the US, 63% believe their government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change, while 21% say the government is doing about the right amount and 11% say it is doing too much. “Public views about climate, environment, and energy issues are strongly linked with political ideology. For example, those who place themselves on the political left are more inclined to see climate change as a serious problem and to think their government is doing too little to address it than those on the right; these differences are particularly wide in the US, Australia, Sweden, Canada, the UK, and the Netherlands,” the findings state.