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Americans’ trust in science now deeply polarized, poll shows

Republicans’ faith in science is falling as Democrats rely on it even more, with a trust gap in science and medicine widening substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic, new survey data shows.

It’s the largest gap in nearly five decades of polling by the General Social Survey, a widely respected trend survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago that has been measuring confidence in institutions since 1972.

Overall, 48% of Americans say they have “a great deal” of confidence in the scientific community, the 2021 General Social Survey data shows. Sixty-four percent of Democrats say that, compared with roughly half as many Republicans, 34%. The gap was much smaller in 2018, when 51% of Democrats and 42% of Republicans had high confidence.

Science used to be something all Americans would get behind, Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley says.

“But we now see it falling prey to the great partisan divide,” he says. “The world of science should be a meeting house where right and left can agree on data. Instead, it’s becoming a sharp razor’s edge of conflict.”

The poll also finds a gap emerging on confidence in medicine, driven primarily by increasing confidence among Democrats. Forty-five percent of Democrats say they have a great deal of confidence in medicine, compared with 34% of Republicans.

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