Nov 15, 2023 - Science

Distrust in scientists rises among both Republicans and Democrats: poll

Illustration of a tiny researcher looking up at a giant hurdle.  

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The share of Americans who trust scientists and believe science has had a mostly positive effect on society has fallen significantly over the past four years, a new Pew Research Center survey found.

The big picture: Trust in scientists declined during the pandemic, at a time when public health officials came under fire for business closures and vaccine and mask mandates meant to protect the public from COVID-19.

  • While 73% of Americans have at least "a fair amount" of trust in scientists to "act in the best interests of the public," that's down from 86% in 2019.
  • The share expressing a "great deal" of trust fell from 35% to 23% in that time, while the percentage with "not too much" trust in scientists or "none at all" climbed from 15% to 27%.
  • At the same time, the share of Americans who believe science has had a mostly positive effect on society fell from 73% in 2019 to 57% in 2023.

Between the lines: The percentages expressing trust in scientists actually ticked up slightly in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic, but have steadily declined since.

  • Pew has polled Americans on their trust in science at least once per year since 2019.

What they found: The distrust rose among both Democrats and Republicans, per the survey.

  • It's particularly pronounced among Republicans, with 38% saying they have "not too much" or "no confidence at all" in scientists.
  • That's up dramatically from the 14% of Republicans who held this view in April 2020, before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a large majority of Democrats (86%) continue to express at least a fair amount of confidence in scientists.

  • Still, the share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents with a great deal of confidence in scientists — which initially rose in the pandemic's first year — now stands at 37%.
  • That's down from a high of 55% in Nov. 2020.

Why it matters: People with greater trust in scientists are more likely to take expert guidance.

  • For example, those with high trust are more likely to have gotten vaccines for COVID-19 and the flu, and are more likely to believe humans contribute to climate change.
  • "The overall differences in partisan views remain much more pronounced today than they were prior to the coronavirus outbreak," the researchers concluded.

Details: The survey of 8,842 U.S. adults was conducted Sept. 25-Oct. 1.

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