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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pandemic is throwing a wrench into Americans' understanding of science, which has big implications for climate change.

Driving the news: Recent focus groups in battleground states suggest some voters are more skeptical of scientists in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, while surveys reveal the persistence of a deep partisan divide.

Why it matters: Science is at the heart of understanding the impacts of a warming world and what kind of policies governments should enforce.

  • The world's response to COVID-19 is providing what some experts say is a hyper-fast glimpse into how the world might address climate change over a longer period of time.
  • Climate change, because it's slower moving and its impacts more diffuse, is going to be even harder to tackle than a relatively fast-moving pandemic.

Where it stands: Swing voters in five battleground states surveyed over the last six months expressed an increasing skepticism about science as the pandemic took over America.

  • Focus groups with nearly 60 swing voters in Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin answered questions on several topics, including science and climate change, on a regular basis. (Most of the voters voted for Barack Obama in 2012, then Donald Trump in 2016.)
  • These focus groups, part of a broader project conducted by the nonpartisan research firms Engagious and Schlesinger, are a small handful of voters and don't offer a statistically significant sample like a poll would.
  • The responses nonetheless provide a richer snapshot inside the minds of voters in key states.

How it works: The voters were asked whether, during the pandemic, scientific experts are a net-plus or net-minus when it comes to guiding public policy.

  • In more recent months — August, September and October — the voters were more evenly divided on the question.
  • In earlier months (April to July), more voters said scientists were a net-positive than said they were a net-negative.
  • "I trust them a little less since COVID," said Taylor, an Obama-Trump Michigan voter. "They have gone back and forth too many times. First it was wear masks, then it was don't."

The intrigue: These snapshots provide a rich backdrop to surveys that suggest a mixed picture of Americans' acceptance of science.

  • Nearly a third of voters in several battleground states say they have greater confidence in scientists since the pandemic, while 22% say their trust in science has weakened, according to a survey conducted by centrist think tank Third Way and ALG Research.
  • That survey reiterated what Pew Research Center has found, which is that any increase in trust with experts has occurred almost exclusively among Democrats.

Methodology: Third Way's survey polled 1,500 likely voters across seven battleground states from July 23-29, with oversamples of 100 Black Americans and 100 Latinos. Its margin of error is +/- 2.5%.

Go deeper: Beyond America, trust in science rose during the pandemic

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Updated Nov 23, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Unpacking Joe Biden's decision to tap John Kerry as his climate envoy

Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is naming former Secretary of State John Kerry as a special presidential envoy for climate change.

Why it matters: The transition team's announcement sought to show that it will be an influential role, noting that Kerry — a former Massachusetts senator and the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee — will be on the National Security Council.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.
4 hours ago - Health

Standardized testing becomes another pandemic victim

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post via Getty

National standardized reading and math tests have been pushed from next year to 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: There’s mounting national evidence that students are suffering major setbacks this year, with a surge in the number of failing grades.

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