Newsflash: Both Parties Struggle with Science

It is a shopworn cliché that Republicans are anti-science, and to be sure, I do wish that more Republicans would accept that evolution is the best explanation out there (by a lot) regarding the origins of life. But while Democrats are more than willing to make fun of Republicans regarding evolution, they are a whole lot less willing to poke fun at themselves over this:

Only 32 percent of Republicans believe in evolution. And most Democrats (51 percent) don’t know both that the Earth goes around the Sun and that it takes a year to do so.

These are just some of the findings that emerge from a closer analysis of the underlying data in the new National Science Foundation Study. A lot has been written about the drop in the proportion of Americans (55 percent) who think that astrology is “not at all scientific” and about the 26 percent of the population who don’t know that the Earth goes around the Sun. Yet what has entirely escaped comment are some more interesting findings that can be gleaned only from crunching the numbers.

In the NSF study, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago asked:

Now, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? [EARTHSUN]

That would seem to be an easy question, and if you didn’t know the answer, there was a 50-50 chance of guessing it right anyway.  Yet only 74 percent got that one correct.

For those who did answer correctly, a follow-up question was asked:

How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun: one day, one month, or one year? [SOLARREV]

The question is a multiple choice one, and there is a 33 percent probability of guessing the right answer. In the 2012 survey, only a bare majority of adults were able to answer both questions correctly: 55 percent of adult Americans responded both that the Earth goes around the Sun and that it takes a year for that to occur.

More disturbingly, in 2012 a majority of Democrats (51 percent) could not correctly answer both that the Earth goes around the Sun and that this takes a year. Republicans fare a bit better, with only 38 percent failing to get both correct.

As with astrology questions, conservative Republicans fare the best (67 percent correct on both questions), followed on this issue by Republicans overall (62 percent correct) and liberal Democrats (62 percent correct).

At the bottom are non-liberal Democrats—conservative Democrats (27 percent correct) and moderate Democrats (44 percent correct). For the full political breakdown, see Table 6 in “Who Believes That Astrology is Scientific?” The margin of error for the party and political orientation groups is 3.3-4.0 percent, while the margin of error for the four combination subgroups just mentioned is 4.5-7.8 percent.

See this post as well. One would think that a group of people more apt to believe in astrology would also be more apt to know that the Earth orbits the Sun, and that it takes a year for the Earth to do so. Of course, unless one is Sherlock Holmes, one has no excuse whatsoever for not knowing which body orbits which. And not even then, really.