The Polarizing Effect of the March for Science on Attitudes toward Scientists
by Matthew Motta, University of Minnesota
Americans’ attitudes toward scientists have become more ideologically polarized in recent years. Although researchers have considered several individual-level factors that might explain this change, less attention has been given to the political actions of scientists themselves. This question has become particularly relevant throughout Donald Trump’s presidency – which has at times sought to undercut support for scientific research – as scientists organize to advance their political and policy interests.
My research considers how March for Science rallies that took place across the United States in late April 2017 influenced Americans’ attitudes toward scientists and the research they produce. In an online panel study – surveying respondents three days before and two days after the March – I found that liberals’ and conservatives’ attitudes toward scientists polarized following the March. Liberals came to hold more positive attitudes, whereas conservatives came to hold more negative attitudes. However, the March appears to have had little effect on the public’s attitudes about scientific research.
In addition to answering questions about the March’s political impact, this research cautions that – as scientists run for office and organize on behalf of their political interests – they should be aware of the potential impact their actions might have on public opinion.