Confidence in science fell in 2022 while political divides persisted, poll shows

Jun 15, 2023, 7:55 AM | Updated: 12:25 pm

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020 file photo, a technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus pat...

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020 file photo, a technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus patient samples for testing at a laboratory in New York's Long Island. Confidence in the scientific community declined among U.S. adults in 2022, a major survey shows, driven by a a partisan divide that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Confidence in the scientific community declined among U.S. adults in 2022, a major survey shows, driven by a a partisan divide in views of both science and medicine that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, 39% of U.S. adults said they had “a great deal of confidence” in the scientific community, down from 48% in 2018 and 2021. That’s according to the General Social Survey, a long-running poll conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago that has monitored Americans’ opinions on key topics since 1972.

An additional 48% of adults in the latest survey reported “only some” confidence, while 13% reported “hardly any,” according to an analysis of the survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The survey showed low confidence levels among Republicans as partisan gaps that emerged during the pandemic era have stuck around, said Jennifer Benz, the center’s deputy director.

“It doesn’t look all that dramatic when you just look at the trends for the overall public,” Benz said. “But when you dig into that by people’s political affiliations, there’s a really stark downturn and polarization.”

Between surveys in 2018 and 2021, as the pandemic took hold, the major parties’ trust levels headed in opposite directions. Democrats reported a growing level of confidence in science in 2021 — perhaps as a “rallying effect” around things like COVID-19 vaccines and prevention measures, Benz said. At the same time, Republicans saw their confidence start to plummet.

In the 2022 survey, Democrats’ confidence fell back to around pre-pandemic levels, with 53% reporting a great deal of confidence compared with 55% in 2018. But Republicans’ confidence continued its downward trend, dropping to 22% from 45% in 2018. Confidence in medicine has also grown more polarized since 2018. That year, Democrats and Republicans were about equally likely to say they had high confidence. By 2022, though, Republicans’ confidence had fallen to 26%, while Democrats’ has remained about the same as it was before the pandemic, at 42%.

Overall, 34% of Americans reported a great deal of confidence in medicine in 2022, compared with 39% before the pandemic.

Generally, scientists have had a high level of trust compared to other groups in the U.S., said John Besley, who studies public opinion about science at Michigan State University. And even with the latest declines, confidence in science is still higher than many other institutions, he pointed out.

But the split between political parties is a cause for concern, experts said.

“You can definitely see the impact here of people taking cues from their political leaders,” Benz said.

For Sudip Parikh, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the drops were “disappointing but not surprising.” He sees them as part of an “overall pulling apart of our communities” and a loss of trust in many institutions.

The latest survey found that distrust has grown for some other groups, too. According to the 2022 survey, confidence in the Supreme Court has plunged to its lowest level in at least 50 years. Americans also reported lower levels of trust in education, the press, major companies and organized religion.

Besley said that scientists should communicate about their motives to help show that they are trustworthy: “Not only do we have some expertise, but that also we’re using that expertise to try to make the world better,” he said.

Parikh thought the stakes are high for rebuilding trust in science — and doing so across political lines.

“Science must be bipartisan,” he said. “The causes of Alzheimer’s are the same whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. The fusion that goes on in the sun is the same whether you live in Topeka or you live in San Francisco.”

The General Social Survey has been conducted since 1972 by NORC at the University of Chicago. Sample sizes for each year’s survey vary from about 1,500 to about 4,000 adults, with margins of error falling between plus or minus 2 percentage points and plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The most recent survey was conducted May 5, 2022, through Dec. 20, 2022, and includes interviews with 3,544 American adults. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


KSL 5 TV Live

National News

Recall of kids cups sold on Amazon. (

Larry D. Curtis

Kids cups sold at Amazon recalled for led content

Two children's drink cups sold on Amazon have been recalled because of possible lead content.

2 hours ago

McKinney Texas Temple Site Location. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)...

Michael Houck

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announces McKinney Texas Temple site

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a name change and the location for a temple near North Dallas, Texas, on Monday. 

5 hours ago

FILE - Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young speaks about the possible government...

Zeke Miller, AP White House Correspondent

White House warns funding for Ukraine is running out

The Biden administration is sending Congress an urgent warning about the need to approve tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance to Ukraine.

6 hours ago

White House Christmas decorations 2023 (Farah Sanders)...

Eliza Pace

Utah couple describes the magical experience of decorating the White House for Christmas

When Utah's Farah Sanders saw an invitation by First Lady Jill Biden — on her Instagram account — seeking decorators for the White House, she jumped at the opportunity.

6 hours ago

Jerrid Joseph Powell, suspected of shooting to death three men, is expected to appear in court Mond...

Sara Smart and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN

Los Angeles man charged with murder in fatal shootings of 3 sleeping homeless men, DA says

A suspect has been charged in the Los Angeles shooting deaths of three homeless men and one other person at his home in San Dimas, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced Monday.

6 hours ago

Police lights...

Associated Press

Idaho officers kill man who fired at authorities during traffic stop, state police say

A 34-year-old man was shot by police and died at the scene in eastern Idaho, Idaho State police say,

7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Design mockup half in white and half in color of luxury house interior with open plan living room a...

Lighting Design

Lighting Design 101: Learn the Basics

These lighting design basics will help you when designing your home, so you can meet both practical and aesthetic needs.

an antler with large horns int he wilderness...

Three Bear Lodge

Yellowstone in the Fall: A Wildlife Spectacle Worth Witnessing

While most people travel to this park in the summer, late fall in Yellowstone provides a wealth of highlights to make a memorable experience.

a diverse group of students raising their hands in a classroom...

Little Orchard Preschool

6 Benefits of Preschool for Kids

Some of the benefits of preschool for kids include developing independence, curiosity, and learning more about the world.

Confidence in science fell in 2022 while political divides persisted, poll shows