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

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, J...

Zeke Miller and Seung Min Kim

Harris wins Pelosi endorsement, claims many of the delegates she needs for the nomination

Vice President Kamala Harris moved swiftly Monday to lock up Democratic delegates behind her campaign for the White House after President Joe Biden stepped aside.

3 hours ago

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 22: United Sates Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle testifies before th...

Alanna Durkin Richer and Farnoush Amiri

Secret Service director, grilled by lawmakers on the Trump assassination attempt, says: ‘We failed’

The Secret Service director is set to testify before a congressional committee as calls mount for her to resign over security failures at a rally where a 20-year-old gunman attempted to assassinate former President Donald Trump.

6 hours ago

FILE - A Delta Air Lines jet leaves the gate, Friday, July 19, 2024, at Logan International Airport...

Associated Press

Delta Air Lines says cancellations continue as it tries to restore operations after tech outage

Airlines, including Delta Air Lines, continued to struggle to restore operations two days after a faulty software update caused technological havoc worldwide.

7 hours ago

People wait in line at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on July 20 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Me...

Dalia Faheid and Lauren Mascarenhas, CNN

More than 1,500 US flights canceled for the third day straight as airlines slowly recover from global tech outage

More than 1,500 US flights have been canceled for the third day straight, as airlines struggle to recover from a global tech outage that left thousands of passengers stranded at airports.

18 hours ago

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Glen Powell, right, and Daisy Edgar-Jones in a scen...

Lindsy Bahr, The Associated Press

‘Twisters’ whips up $80.5 million at box office, while ‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ looms

Moviegoers ran toward the tornadoes this weekend, propelling “ Twisters ” to a blockbuster opening. The standalone sequel to the 1996 hit made $80.5 million in ticket sales from 4,151 theaters in North America, according to studio estimates Sunday.

19 hours ago

FILE - Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in the East Room of the White House, March 18, 2024, in ...

Chris Megerian, The Associated Press

Harris, endorsed by Biden, could become first woman, second Black person to be president

She's already broken barriers, and now Kamala Harris could shatter several more after President Joe Biden abruptly ended his reelection bid and endorsed her.

23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

young male technician is repairing a printer at office...

Les Olson

Unraveling the dilemma between leasing and buying office technology

Carefully weigh these pros and cons to make an informed decision that best suits your business growth and day-to-day operation. 

A kitchen in a modern farmhouse....

Lighting Design

A room-by-room lighting guide for your home

Bookmark this room-by-room lighting guide whenever you decide to upgrade your lighting or style a new home.

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

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