What Do The Polls Tells Us?

This page houses links to poll results on the topic of evolution and general science knowledge. It's important to start with the latter, so that public opinion on the science of evolution can be seen as a religiously oriented exacerbation of general science illiteracy.
 
 

General Science Knowledge

 

US National Science Foundation

A substantial number of people throughout the world appear to be unable to answer simple, science-related questions. Many did not know the correct answers to several (mostly) true/false questions designed to test their basic knowledge of science.

The ten assertions below were phrased as questions asked of American adults in 2004. The correct answers follow in parentheses. The percentage of those surveyed who answered correctly follows.

·      Does the Earth go around the Sun or does the Sun go around the Earth?     (Earth around Sun)  71.0%  

·       The center of the Earth is very hot.     (True)  78.0% 

·       All radioactivity is man-made     (False)  73.0% 

·       It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl     (True)  62.0% 

·       Lasers work by focusing sound waves     (False)  42.0% 

·       Electrons are smaller than atoms     (True)  45.0% 

·       Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria     (False)  54.0% 

·       The universe began with a huge explosion     (True)  40.0% 

·       The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future     (True)  77.0% 

·       Human beings as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals     (True)  50.0% 

 

Source: National Science Foundation, Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 (Arlington: National Science Foundation, 2006). Chapter 7: "Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding," Figure 7-7, pg. 7-18.

Prepared by the NSF's Division of Science Resources Statistics on behalf of the National Science Board. Appendix Table 7-10 compares the US with other countries.

 
Evolution
 
The Gallup Poll
 

Gallup has studied human nature and behavior for more than 70 years. Gallup's reputation for delivering relevant, timely, and visionary research on what people around the world think and feel is the cornerstone of the organization. Gallup employs many of the world's leading scientists in management, economics, psychology, and sociology, and our consultants assist leaders in identifying and monitoring behavioral economic indicators worldwide. Gallup consultants help organizations boost organic growth by increasing customer engagement and maximizing employee productivity through measurement tools, coursework, and strategic advisory services. Gallup's 2,000 professionals deliver services at client organizations, through the Web, at Gallup University's campuses, and in 40 offices around the world.     More about Gallup

 

On Evolution

· Republicans, Democrats Differ on Creationism

· Majority of Republicans Doubt Theory of Evolution

· Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design

· Almost Half of Americans Believe Humans Did Not Evolve

· American Beliefs: Evolution vs. Bible's Explanation of Human Origins

· Most Americans Engaged in Debate About Evolution, Creation

· Most Americans Tentative About Origin-of-Life Explanations 

 

The Pew Research Center

The Center is an independent opinion research group that studies attitudes toward the press, politics and public policy issues. We are best known for regular national surveys that measure public attentiveness to major news stories, and for our polling that charts trends in values and fundamental political and social attitudes. Formerly, the Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press (1990-1995), we are now sponsored by The Pew Charitable Trusts and are one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

The Center's purpose is to serve as a forum for ideas on the media and public policy through public opinion research. In this role it serves as an important information resource for political leaders, journalists, scholars, and public interest organizations. All of our current survey results are made available free of charge.  More about Pew

The Debate Over Evolution (Feb 2009) 

  • Overview: The Conflict between Religion and Evolution
  • Darwin and His Theory of Evolution
  • Evolution: A Timeline
  • The Social and Legal Dimensions of the Evolution Debate in the U.S.
  • Religious Groups' View on Evolution
  • Fighting over Darwin: State by State
Views on Science by the American Public and American Scientists (July 2009)
  • Overview
  • Full report (pdf)
  • On the topic of evolution:
  • "Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time," while only 61% of the public agrees. See the brief review by NCSE (July 9, 2009).
Additional Pew Research Resources (2005-2006)
Public Acceptance of Evolution

Jon D. Miller, Eugenie C. Scott, Shinji Okamoto. Science 2006;313:765-766. 

The concept of the evolution of humans from earlier forms of life is unacceptable to biblical literalists and causes concern even among some holders of less conservative religious views. Catholics and mainstream Protestants generally accept variations of a theological view known as theistic evolution, which views evolution as the means by which God brought about humans, as well as other organisms. Evolution is nonetheless problematic to some of these nonliteralist Christians, because it implies a more distant or less personal God (1-3). Efforts to insert "intelligent design" into school science curricula seek to retain the divine design of humans while remaining agnostic on earlier creationist beliefs in a young Earth and the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs (2, 4).

Beginning in 1985, national samples of U.S. adults have been asked whether the statement, "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals," is true or false, or whether the respondent is not sure or does not know. We compared the results of these surveys with survey data from nine European countries in 2002, surveys in 32 European countries in 2005, and a national survey in Japan in 2001 (5). Over the past 20 years, the percentage of U.S. adults accepting the idea of evolution has declined from 45% to 40% and the percentage of adults overtly rejecting evolution declined from 48% to 39%. The percentage of adults who were not sure about evolution increased from 7% in 1985 to 21% in 2005. After 20 years of public debate, the public appears to be divided evenly in terms of accepting or rejecting evolution, with about one in five adults still undecided or unaware of the issue. This pattern is consistent with a number of sporadic national newspaper surveys reported in recent years (6-10).

A dichotomous true-false question format tends to exaggerate the strength of both positions. In 1993 and 2003, national samples of American adults were asked about the same statement but were offered the choice of saying that the statement was "definitely true, probably true, probably false, definitely false," or that they did not know or were uncertain. About a third of American adults firmly rejected evolution, and only 14% of adults thought that evolution is "definitely true." Treating the "probably" and "not sure" categories as varying degrees of uncertainty, ~55% of American adults have held a tentative view about evolution for the last decade.

This pattern is different from that seen in Europe and Japan. Looking first at the simpler true-false question, our analysis found that significantly (at the 0.01 to 0.05 level by difference of proportions) (11) more adults in Japan and 32 European countries accepted the concept of evolution than did American adults (see figure, right). Only Turkish adults were less likely to accept the concept of evolution than American adults. In Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and France, 80% or more of adults accepted the concept of evolution, as did 78% of Japanese adults.

A cross-national study of the United States and nine European nations in 2002-2003 used the expanded version of the question. The results confirm that a significantly lower proportion of American adults believe that evolution is absolutely true than adults in nine European countries [see fig. S1 in the Supporting Online Material (SOM)]. A third of American adults indicated that evolution is "absolutely false"; the proportion of European adults who thought that evolution was absolutely false ranged from 7% in Denmark, France, and Great Britain to 15% in the Netherlands.

Regardless of the form of the question, one in three American adults firmly rejects the concept of evolution, a significantly higher proportion than found in any western European country. How can we account for this pattern of American reservations about the concept of evolution in the context of broad acceptance in Europe and Japan?... 

 

Theos and ComRes: Polling the UK

Theos is a public theology think tank which exists to undertake research and provide commentary on social and political arrangements. Below are two extensive reports on public opinion on creation and evolution in Great Britian today. Both are available online for free.
On Origins
Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in Britain Today by Nick Spencer and Denis Alexander (London: Theos, 2009).

Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design may be relatively recent phenomena in the US, but they are even more recent in the UK. For this reason there are very few  studies describing the extent and nature of non-evolutionary beliefs in the UK, and no longitudinal data to track the long-term growth or decline of such beliefs.

According to an Ipsos/MORI poll conducted for the BBC in January 2006, 48% of people believe in the “evolution theory”, which was defined in the survey as “human kind [having] developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process.”

The same survey reported that 22% believed in the “creationism theory” (“that God created human kind pretty much in his/her present form at one time within the last 10,000 years”) and 17% in the “intelligent design theory” (“that certain features of living things are best explained by the intervention of a supernatural being, e.g. God”). In July the same year, OpinionPanel asked university students the same questions, with similar results: 56% favoured evolution, 12% creationism, and 19% intelligent design.

Such data are valuable but suffer from the problem that they force respondents into distinct, pre-existing categories, compartmentalised into misleading “either-or” dichotomies. Single questions with only a, b or c options to choose from are unlikely to capture the complexity of the full situation.

For this reason, Theos commissioned the polling company ComRes to conduct an extensive survey into the true extent and nature of evolutionary and non-evolutionary beliefs in the UK, among 2,000 adults. This survey asked people their opinions of creationism, Intelligent Design, and evolution from a number of different angles, sometimes naming the positions, sometimes not, as well as separately asking about people’s religious beliefs, behaviour, and affiliation. By doing this, the data could be analysed in such a way as to measure accurately the true state of beliefs in the UK.

The results were complex, bearing out the hypothesis that people’s opinions in this matter are not necessarily well-formed or coherent. Many people simply have not thought in any depth about Darwinian evolution, still less Intelligent Design and, accordingly, they articulate opinions that appear to be inconsistent or ill-thought-through. Such confusion and complexity acknowledged, however, clear patterns emerged...

Full-text (pdf)   (72 pages) For discussion of the poll results, see chapters 3-4, pp. 29-45   Data Tables

Faith and Darwin: Harmony, Conflict, or Confusion? by Caroline Lawes (London: Theos, 2009).

Foreword by Nick Spencer, Director of Studies, Theos Think Tank

The debate around Darwinism is dogged by uncertainty and confusion. How many people are evolutionists? How many creationists? How many advocates of Intelligent Design? What are the characteristics of each group? Is Intelligent Design a religious phenomenon? Are the majority of creationists Christians? Are they Muslims? Have they any religious affiliations? Do any of these groups have distinctive demographic, political or educational characteristics that might help us understand better the present intellectual landscape?

Research into these questions, at least in the UK, has been very limited. In January 2006, Ipsos/MORI asked the general public whether they believed in the “evolution theory”, the “creationism theory” or the “intelligent design theory”. Six months later OpinionPanel asked university students the same question. Useful as such questions can be, they force respondents into distinct, pre-existing categories, assuming that everyone who ticks evolution or creationism or ID does so with the same degree of conviction and consistency.

The survey that forms the basis of this report is different. Commissioned by Theos and conducted by ComRes it asked over 2,000 UK respondents more than 25 questions: about Darwin, Darwinism, creationism, Intelligent Design, science, science education, purpose, design, God, prayer, humanity – and a range of other topics. The idea was to probe respondents from a number of different angles, exploring not only what they believed but how consistently they believed it and whether or not it correlated to other beliefs. In particular, the survey focused on the perceived relationship between theistic belief and evolution. Were the two linked in people’s minds and, if so, in what way? Were they deemed compatible or incompatible, in tension or in harmony?

The results, which are précised in the Executive Summary and detailed in the body of the report, are interesting and, as one might expect, complex. The manner in which people engage with, adopt or reject evolution is varied, and people are not as consistent in their opinions as earlier single-question-based surveys had suggested.

Sizeable minorities were committed and coherent in their adherence to evolution, creationism or ID, but many more were uncertain and inclined to hedge their bets. The fact that people are more willing to state that a particular position is untrue rather than true, and more willing to designate a position as probable than definite, is telling.

Theos is grateful to the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion for its help in drafting and redrafting (and redrafting) the original questionnaire, and to ComRes for its participation in this process, for carrying out the research with typical professionalism and for conducting such a thorough analysis of the data.

It is worth noting that all the analysis within this report was conducted by Caroline Lawes and her colleagues at ComRes as it was deemed inappropriate for Theos, whose own advocacy of theistic evolution is well-known, to scrutinise the figures or draw conclusions from them.

We hope that the data and the analysis in this report will be of interest and use to those engaged in the debate, and that it will, in some small way, help to clear up the uncertainty and confusion that dogs discussion of evolution and creationism in the UK today.

Full-text (pdf) (116 pages)
On Ghosts

Research published by Theos on 13 April 2009 has revealed a strong belief in ghosts and the supernatural across the UK. The poll of over 2,000 people, conducted by ComRes on behalf of Theos, shows that 70% of people believe in the human soul, 55% believe in heaven and 53% believe in life after death.

Almost four in 10 (39%) of people believe in ghosts, 22% believe in astrology or horoscopes, 27% believe in reincarnation and 15% believe in fortune telling or Tarot, the research reveals.

The comparison with the 1950s is especially striking. In 1950, only 10% of the public told Gallup that they believed in ghosts, and just 2% thought they had seen one. In 1951, only 7% of the public said they believed in predicting the future by cards and 6% by stars...

Full-text 

 

British Council Survey on Evolution in Ten Countries (2009)

From the NCSE (July 2, 2009): A recent international survey conducted by the British Council investigated awareness of Darwin, acceptance of evolution, and attitudes toward evolution and faith. In a June 30, 2009, press release, Fern Elsdon-Baker, the head of the British Council's Darwin Now program, commented, "The international Darwin survey has thrown up some very interesting results, especially as it includes data from countries not previously covered before. The most encouraging aspect of the survey shows that whilst there are diverse views on Darwin’s theory of evolution, there appears to a broad acceptance that science and faith do not have to be in conflict. Whilst the results show that there is some way to go in communicating the evidence of evolutionary theory to wider audiences, it is evident that there is clear space for dialogue on this sometimes complex area of debate."

The survey was conducted in April and May 2009 in ten countries: Argentina, China, Egypt, Great Britain, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, and the United States. For the question "Have you heard of Charles Darwin?" Russia led the list with 93% of respondents saying yes, with Great Britain and Mexico tied for second at 90%, and China a close third at 90%; the United States was fifth at 84%. For the question "To what extent do you agree or disagree that it is possible to believe in a God and still hold the view that life on earth, including human life, evolved over time as a result of natural selection?" India led the list with 85% of respondents agreeing, with Mexico second at 65% and Argentina third at 62%; the United States was fifth at 53%, just behind Great Britain, Russia, and South Africa, which tied for fourth at 54%.

For the question "To what extent do you agree or disagree that enough scientific evidence exists to support Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution [sic]?" — posed to respondents who had heard of Charles Darwin and knew something about the theory of evolution — India led the list with 77% of respondents agreeing, with China second at 72% and Mexico second at 65%. The United States was ninth at 41%, just behind South Africa at 42% and well ahead of Egypt at 25%. In keeping with reports on previous international surveys on public attitudes toward evolution, such as Miller, Scott, and Okamoto's article in Science in 2006, the United States was also conspicuous for the level of disagreement with the theory of evolution: 30%, second only to Egypt's 63%. Only 29% of respondents in the United States indicated that they neither agreed nor disagreed or didn't know.

Respondents were also asked which of the following was closest to their own view: "life on earth, including human life, evolved over time as a result of natural selection, in which no God played a part"; "life on earth, including human life, evolved over time in a process guided by a God"; and "life on earth, including human life, was created by a God and has always existed in its current form." (Respondents were also offered the response, "I have another view on the origins of species and development of life on earth, which is not included in this list.") The first view was preferred in China by 67% of the respondents, in Mexico, Great Britain, and Spain by 38%, in Argentina by 37%, and in Russia by 32%; the third was preferred in Egypt by 50% of the respondents, and in India, South Africa, and the United States by 43%. In no country was the second view held by a plurality of respondents.

The survey itself can be found here.

Polling Creation in Canada
NCSE. August 8, 2008. Among Canadians, 58 percent accept evolution, while 22 percent think that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, and 20 percent are unsure, according to a new poll from Angus Reid Strategies. The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1007 Canadian adults interviewed on-line on July 29 and 30, 2008, and its margin of error is +/- 3.1%. The results are virtually unchanged from a 2007 poll, in which 59 percent of the respondents accepted evolution, 22 percent preferred the creationist option, and 19 percent were unsure.

 

The Harris Poll

 

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll weekly column is one of the longest running; most respected proprietary surveys conducted by Harris Interactive measuring public opinion and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted both by telephone and online, measure, and trend, the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivation of the general public. New survey data on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. Results of The Harris Poll are frequently quoted in the media, receiving thousands of mentions annually.

On Evolution (2005)

 

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – December 10, 2008 – That very large majorities of the American public believe in God, miracles, the survival of the soul after death, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Virgin birth will come as no great surprise. What may be more surprising is that substantial minorities believe in ghosts, UFOs, witches, astrology, and the belief that they themselves were once other people. Overall, more people believe in the devil, hell and angels than believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll®, a new nationwide survey of 2,126 U.S. adults surveyed online between November 10 and 17, 2008 by Harris Interactive®.

Results of 2008 Poll

 

Live Science

 

Survey: 61 Percent Agree with Evolution

 

Americans would rather hear about evolution from scientists than from judges or celebrities, according to a new survey that finds a majority agree that evolution is at work among living things.

 

A coalition of 17 organizations reacted today to the survey by calling on the scientific community to become more involved in promoting evolution and other aspects of science education.

 

The coalition, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Physics and the National Science Teachers Association, released this statement:  

"The introduction of 'non-science,' such as creationism and intelligent design, into science education will undermine the fundamentals of science education. Some of these fundamentals include using the scientific method, understanding how to reach scientific consensus, and distinguishing between scientific and nonscientific explanations of natural phenomena."

The Rest of the Article >>>

 

Ohio Scientists' Intelligent Design Poll

 

A poll of scientists' opinions on "intelligent design", commissioned by the University of Cincinnati and Case Western Reserve University, was presented in October, 2002. Posted at NCSE