A Tea Party rally in New Hampshire. Image: Wikimedia
And so the richest country in history continues to defy secularization: According to the latest Pew analysis, a full one-third of Americans still reject evolution. That's almost exactly the same percentage that believed that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time,” as it's stated in the survey, back in 2009 when Pew last conducted such research.
There's at least one major reconfiguring along the landscape of American belief in evolution however, and it falls not on religious but political lines. Belief in evolution amongst Republicans plummeted 11 percent over the last four years. The Pew Research Center explains:
"In 2009, 54 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap."
That's pretty astonishing. And it lends credence to the popular argument, first raised during the Bush years, that Republicans have become the party sympathetic to anti-science views. Ten years ago, it was revealed that the Bush administration was ignoring—or even covering up—its own scientists' findings on climate change.
Since then, top Republicans have publicly embraced an ideological platform that denies the science that indicates climate change is a threat, advanced creationist curricula, and added a swath of dubious myths about women's reproductive health to their mantle. This Congress has been deemed resolutely anti-science by scientists, its opposition, and critics alike.
Now, it appears that the belligerence towards science has trickled down to voters who identify with Republicans, too. Or at least, those who are left.
An eleven-point drop in four years is crazy; it's precipitous. Even Pew struggles to explain the decline.
"Differences in the racial and ethnic composition of Democrats and Republicans or differences in their levels of religious commitment do not wholly explain partisan differences in beliefs about evolution," the report states. "Indeed, the partisan differences remain even when taking these other characteristics into account."
Which seems to prove it's a more general dogmatic shift, then. But it's my guess that Republicans aren't necessarily changing their minds in droves about evolution, though there's likely some drift in that direction given the vigor and religiosity of its loudest propaganda organs. I'd wager that the rightward lunge that began in 2009—back when well over half of Republicans still believed in evolution—has scared off its more moderate, science-friendly constituents. Both Independents and Democrats became more science-friendly over the same period, adding about 5 percentage points worth of evolution believers to their ranks.
The shift transpires in a period where both groups grew, too—according to Gallup, 47 percent of Americans now identify as Democrats, up from 45 percent in 2011, compared with the 42 percent who currently say they're Republicans. Meanwhile, recent polls have found that moderates are shifting their allegiances and even abandoning the party.
The trend seems to track: The Tea Party-driven Republicans of today are fiercely exclusive, and leave little room for comfortable ideological dissent. If you're a voter who thinks science is important—and that it explains that an increased saturation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can cause global temperatures to rise, that women's bodies don't actually come equipped with built-in anti-rape devices, and, yes, that species evolve the advantages necessary for their survival—then it's probably hard to feel that your voice is represented in the modern Republican party.
It shows that even in the face of a truly massive and still-expanding body of research on the fundamental mechanism that drives our biological systems, one of our two major political parties prefers to stay medieval. Again there are hints that a future regression towards an Atwoodian high-tech theocracy is plausible, if not probable. After all, that the GOP as we know it is in the midst of something that resembles an extinction event. In the face of demographic decline, falling popularity, and decreasing fundraising returns, the party needs science literate members more than ever. If only to elucidate to them the theory capable of explaining precisely what they need to do to survive.