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Friday, August 19, 2011

Perry vs. Huntsman on Evolution

Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman tweeted on Thursday “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."  This was no doubt intended to contrast him to Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry, who said this past week that evolution was “a theory that's out there…with gaps.” Perry did not say that he didn’t believe in the theory of evolution, but USA Today reports that he is on record as adhering to a theory of intelligent design, which is not evolution as most scientists understand it.

Where does the public come down on this?  There are a number of different ways of asking the public about evolution. Back in 2007 Gallup asked the public this question:

Next, we'd like to ask about your views on two different explanations for the origin and development of life on earth. Do you think -- [ITEMS ROTATED] -- is -- [ROTATED: definitely true, probably true, probably false, (or) definitely false]?

A. Evolution, that is, the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life

We found in response that 53% of Americans believe that evolution (as defined in this particular question wording) is definitely or probably true, while 44% said evolution was definitely or probably not true.

Of importance to us here is the breakout among Republicans. We found in 2007 that a whopping 68% of Republicans did not believe in evolution when using this question wording. By contrast 61% of independents and 57% of Democrats did say they believed in evolution.

Another Gallup question on evolution is the following:

Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings -- [ROTATE 1-3/3-1: 1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so]?

Here we find, in our last asking December 10-12:
  • Man developed, with God Guiding: 38%
  • Man developed, but God had no part in the process: 16%
  • God created man in present form: 40%
The two questions have rough agreement in estimating those who believe in evolution. Fifty-three percent said they agreed in the 2007 wording, while 54% agree with the “man developed” wording in this latest update on the 2010 wording.

There is, however, a difference in Republican sentiment using the two wordings. In the 2010 wording we find that 52% of Republicans say that God created humans in present form within the last 10,000 years. That’s roughly the “non-evolution” position. So we can say that the percentage of Republicans who do not believe in evolution goes from 68% (using the 2007 wording) to 52% (using the 2010 wording).  Still, and this is the key issue, it's a majority of Republicans who disbelieve in evolution in both cases.
Now, back to GOP candidate Perry. He didn’t flat out say that he didn’t believe in evolution in his latest utterances, but certainly adumbrated that conclusion.  He said it was a theory with gaps. Which is actually not that controversial.  Any scientist would say that evolution is a theory, just as gravity, general relativity, the Big Bang, and so forth are theories. Science works by proposing theories, and then seeing if there is data which support or reject them. Most scientists would say today that the data generally support the broad theory of evolution, and that there is not a sufficient mass of data to cause them to reject the theory. So Perry is not being very controversial by saying that evolution is a theory per se. But the implication of his comments -- coupled with previous comments -- is that he doubts that the theory is or will be sustained by the data. So it’s probably fair to put him in the “skeptical” column when it comes to evolution.

In that sense, Perry is in sync with the majority of Republicans nationwide as we have seen. Jon Huntsman is less in sync with Republicans nationwide with his tweeted comment about belief in evolution.

When it comes to the general election and the general electorate, on the other hand, Huntsman is more in tune with the population.  This episode in fact exemplifies the situation in which Republican candidates find themselves today. By pleasing the Republican base, they move further away from the general population of voters who will be crucial in November 2012. If they fail to please the Republican base, however, they run the risk of not getting the nomination in the first place, rendering all else moot as far as they are concerned.

Nothing in our data, by the way, suggests that evolution is, at this point, a major issue for Republicans or for the general population.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...
August 25, 2011 at 11:13 PM  

The wording of your questions on evolution are problematic. Evolution is neither guided nor directional - so "higher," "lower," and "less advanced" are not the right way to think about our ancestors. It is about adaptation and competitive advantage. Beetles and fungi are extremely well-adapted, for there are so very many of them. You might instead ask, "Do you believe that humans shared a common ancestor with other species?" But I suspect that more direct wording would receive a less positive response.

I always find it strange that the party which espouses the efficiency of market selection as an economic force cannot fathom natural selection as a biological force. They are separated only in time scale.

Anonymous said...
September 2, 2011 at 8:16 PM  

I think the definition of a scientific theory in this article is not clear. It is not merely postulating an idea, nor is it a proposal:

A scientific theory comprises a collection of concepts, including abstractions of observable phenomena expressed as quantifiable properties, together with rules (called scientific laws) that express relationships between observations of such concepts. A scientific theory is constructed to conform to available empirical data about such observations, and is put forth as a principle or body of principles for explaining a class of phenomena.
- Wikipedia

Anonymous said...
September 6, 2011 at 12:06 PM  

why is people still wasting their time on evolution, it's not a "Theory" and it's not a "belief" its a fact that goes against their silly god(s)

jayant said...
September 7, 2011 at 8:48 PM  

Republican are spending more time regarding bashing obama care than giving any alternative solution.

Mike Bruno, Geneva, IL said...
September 15, 2011 at 9:40 AM  

Your final point: "Nothing in our data, by the way, suggests that evolution is, at this point, a major issue for Republicans or for the general population." is unsettling.

It should be a litmus test for public office that a candidate should demonstrate their appreciation of evidence in lieu of ideology. Whether it is evolutionary biology or economic policy or climate science; our law makers [seldom experts themselves on these matters] would defer to scientific consensus on matters of science.

Ben said...
September 16, 2011 at 4:07 PM  

"Science works by proposing theories, and then seeing if there is data which support or reject them."

Actually, scientists propose and test hypotheses. A scientific theory is a proven hypothetical mechanism.

By the way, theories are always mechanisms. For example, while evolution is a change in inherited traits in a population, the theory of evolution is the collective name for the mechanisms that cause evolution.

If the mechanisms that cause evolution were not proven, there would be no theory of evolution, because scientific theories are hypothetical mechanisms that have already been tested and proven.

Maria said...
September 21, 2011 at 9:29 PM  

Evolution is something one has a stable opinion on. They either believe in it, don't believe in it, or have doubt in the theory. The wording of the question being asked can cause confusion. Those being asked the poll questions can interpret it in many different ways which can have them answer a certain way. This also causes the results to be less accurate. This article about Perry and Huntsman, both republican, show differences within a faction.

The ending of this article stating, "Nothing in our data, by the way, suggests that evolution is, at this point, a major issue for Republicans or for the general public." is a problematic statement. If it's not a major issue then they should be more concerned about major issues such as medicare.

Berenice said...
September 22, 2011 at 10:54 PM  

"Do you believe that humans shared a common ancestor with other species?" Having asked the latter really wouldn't have had a full effect. Although the final remark is "unsettling" to some, Republicans at this point shouldn't be worrying much about their own thoughts about evolution. They should focus their attention else where. In all reality it wasn't so surprising that "68% of Republicans did not believe in evolution." Most republicans are conservatives that follow traditional beliefs.

CJ said...
September 23, 2011 at 12:05 AM  

I believe many of these comments stray from the point of this article. How they defined evolution as a scientific theory isn't the point, but rather the way Republicans appeal to the public.

It even states at the bottom, "Nothing in our data, by the way, suggests that evolution is, at this point, a major issue for Republicans or for the general population." It was just used as an example to better articulate how Perry sides more with Republicans than Huntsman does.

Anonymous said...
September 23, 2011 at 12:21 AM  

What does their views on evolution have anything to do with the problems of our country and what we need fixed and solved. They need to stop tweeting about evolution and "talk" about the economy. -SRG

Anonymous said...
September 23, 2011 at 1:13 AM  

I think that it just comes down to what each person thinks or believes.A person who is religous is goin to believe that God created humans.Someone who trusts science is goin to believe in scientific facts and findings.

Anonymous said...
September 23, 2011 at 2:00 AM  

Back in 2007 when the Gallup asked the public this question:

Next, we'd like to ask about your views on two different explanations for the origin and development of life on earth. Do you think -- [ITEMS ROTATED] -- is -- [ROTATED: definitely true, probably true, probably false, (or) definitely false]?

A. Evolution, that is, the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life

... the wording was too vague. Many people who don't believe mankind, in it's present day form, came about from being apes and developing into cavemen still believe people adapt. Many believe that all living organisms adapt to things like climate, which unquestionably changes over time, and thus humans become more tan and have different eye colors, etc.
The phrase "less advanced" could mean any number of things. It could be a group of very light skinned people moving to Africa, then over time having their descendants skin become a darker, more advanced and adapted color for their surroundings. The phrase may have been confusing to some ergo there are 53% of Americans who believed that evolution (as defined in this particular question wording) is definitely or probably true, while 44% said evolution was definitely or probably not true.
To get more accurate data of stable opinions, a better question could have included more specifics, defining "less advanced".

Anonymous said...
September 23, 2011 at 3:31 AM  

I think neither Republicans nor Democrats should be asked these questions. Everyone has their beliefs, and Americans shouldn't judge them for it. A Republican's religious or scientific beliefs aren't going to be part of their job, therefore, opinions shouldn't be based on that.

Anonymous said...
September 27, 2011 at 2:56 AM  

Why does a candidate's view on evolution matter? How will this help fix the economic crisis that haunts this country ? A candidate is supposed to be voted for based on their POLITICAL ideology not their views on God or science. This proves that the American people vote for candidates based off their beliefs rather than their actual policies which then causes bigger problems.

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