Half of Texans Prefer Faith Over Science, According to UT/Texas Tribune Poll

Nov. 2, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas — About half of Texas voters believe faith is a better guide than scientific evidence on most important questions, according to a recent University of Texas at Austin/Texas Tribune poll.

According to the poll, which surveyed Texans on a wide range of attitudes related to science and public policy, a similar proportion of voters said that “instinct and gut reactions” are just as good as the advice of scientists in most cases.

However, 66 percent of voters said politicians, when faced with a difficult decision, should follow the advice of relevant experts, even if it means going against their ideology.

“We were interested in ascertaining how Texas voters view the role of science and scientists in the public policy process,” said Daron Shaw, professor of Government at The University of Texas at Austin, who oversees the survey. “What we found is that the polarization of contemporary politics is manifest in attitudes toward scientific expertise. Many people see biases in the scientific project, especially in contentious public policy areas. I’d be somewhat surprised if people had similar thoughts in the 1940s after the Manhattan Project or in the 1960s after the moon landing.”

The statewide poll conducted Oct. 15-20 surveyed 800 registered Texas voters and has a margin of error of +/- 3.46 percentage points

Voters were split on views regarding scientists and academics. Fifty-five percent agreed with the statement that “scientists and academics are not concerned about the moral implications of their research,” and 58 percent agreed with the statement “most university professors are liberals who are trying to push an ideological agenda with their research.”

Voters were also asked, on a scale of one to 10, how much politicians and public officials should defer to scientists on various issues. Respondents tended to defer more to scientists on issues such as natural disaster preparedness, space exploration and nuclear power and less on issues such as gun control, abortion and birth control.

“These results suggest that in policy areas in which there are sharp and public political divisions, many Texans’ reliance on science for guidance appears conditioned by other factors,” said James Henson, who also oversees the poll and is director of the Texas Politics Project and a lecturer in the Department of Government. “These results point us toward further research into what factors influence people’s willingness to rely on science to make judgments about policy.

“As a preliminary observation, it certainly seemed that those who identified with the Republican Party were, on average, more skeptical than those who identified with the Democratic Party, which, given the pattern of party identification in Texas, helps explain some of the results,” said Henson. “But it will take more survey work to unpack what drives this apparent partisan difference.”

This is the latest in a series of online polls conducted by the Texas Politics Project and The Texas Tribune. Comprehensive poll results, information about methodology and the survey dataset will be available at the Texas Politics Project website.

For more information, contact: David Ochsner, College of Liberal Arts, 512 626 0788; Daron Shaw, Department of Government, College of Liberal Arts, 512-232-7275, dshaw@austin.utexas.edu; James Henson, Department of Government, 512-468-4113

2 Comments to "Half of Texans Prefer Faith Over Science, According to UT/Texas Tribune Poll"

1.  Jacob Eli Montgomery said on Nov. 2, 2012

This poll is idiotic for two reasons. First it begs the question that science or "faith" are applicable to those important questions, and secondly it creates a false dichotomy where people are only given two choices when many times it's a combination of different factors.

The premise that applying the scientific method to all policy questions is ludicrous on it's face. Moral and ethical questions, aesthetics, metaphysics, and formal logic don't have anything to do with science. The Founders didn't conduct experiments to decide whether the right to bear arms was a natural right. The scientific method wasn't used at Nuremberg to judge the immoral recalcitrance of the Third Reich.

Asking people either/or questions based on false premises like this does nothing and reveals nothing, except to, as I suspect, provide a banal reflexive pat on the back for how gosh darn smart the materialist academic class is and how silly and stupid your everyday Texan is.

2.  Wayne said on Nov. 2, 2012

A very misleading headline. Not once in the article does ir mention faith. Faith is now a synonym for religion or what have you. The headline infers something the article does not convey.