Pew Survey Finds Nine Point Drop In Republicans Who Believe in Evolution Compared To 2009

Pew Research Center has released a study on public attitudes on evolution versus creationism.   In contrast to a Harris poll released last week, Pew does not find an increase in the number who believe in evolution but shows a significantly higher percentage of people who do:

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

The Harris poll, which was an online poll compared to Pew survey based upon telephone interviews, found that “Forty-seven percent say they believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, compared to 42 percent in 2005.”

As expected, both polls showed the same partisan breakdown:

There are sizable differences among partisan groups in beliefs about evolution. Republicans are less inclined than either Democrats or political independents to say that humans have evolved over time. Roughly two-thirds of Democrats (67%) and independents (65%) say that humans have evolved over time, compared with less than half of Republicans (43%).

The size of the gap between partisan groups has grown since 2009. Republicans are less inclined today than they were in 2009 to say that humans have evolved over time (43% today vs. 54% in 2009), while opinion among both Democrats and independents has remained about the same.

This is consistent with the increased polarization between the two parties. Belief in creationism corresponds with Republican attitudes of hostility towards science along with the tendency of Republicans to accept an entire world view which is divorced from reality. Often belief in creationism can be seen as a marker that someone has been taken in by the right-wing narrative and accepts the many other falsehoods they spread.

There are other demographic differences, such as the young and more educated being more likely to believe in evolution. Taking additional factors into account did not explain the partisan differences. If is far more likely that this is a sign of the basic differences between the two parties, even if I remain disappointed that a sizable number of Democrats also believe in creationism. This is partially due to the Democrats being more of a big tent party which might be good from the perspective of long-term political potential, but which also shows that there are limitations to the Democratic Party’s ability to be a force for liberal change. While I would like to see Democratic candidates more forcefully defend separation of church and state and be able to use disbelief in evolution as an argument against Republicans, the overall degree of both social conservatism and scientific ignorance in this country makes this unlikely to happen in the near future. As the next generation ages and gets out to vote, this could change.