Declining Trust in Scientists
Americans’ confidence in groups and institutions has turned downward compared with just a year ago. Trust in scientists and medical scientists, once seemingly buoyed by their central role in addressing the coronavirus outbreak, is now below pre-pandemic levels.
Overall, 29% of U.S. adults say they have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public, down from 40% who said this in November 2020. Similarly, the share with a great deal of confidence in scientists to act in the public’s best interests is down by 10 percentage points (from 39% to 29%), according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The new findings represent a shift in the recent trajectory of attitudes toward medical scientists and scientists. Public confidence in both groups had increased shortly after the start of the coronavirus outbreak, according to an April 2020 survey. Current ratings of medical scientists and scientists have now fallen below where they were in January 2019, before the emergence of the coronavirus.
Scientists and medical scientists are not the only groups and institutions to see their confidence ratings decline in the last year. The share of Americans who say they have a great deal of confidence in the military to act in the public’s best interests has fallen 14 points, from 39% in November 2020 to 25% in the current survey. And the shares of Americans with a great deal of confidence in K-12 public school principals and police officers have also decreased (by 7 and 6 points, respectively).
Confidence in medical scientists and scientists across racial and ethnic groups plays out differently for Democrats and Republicans.
White Democrats (52%) are more likely than Hispanic (36%) and Black (30%) Democrats to say they have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the public’s best interests. However, large majorities of all three groups say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in medical scientists.
Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 14% of White adults say they have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists, while 52% say they have a fair amount of confidence. Views among Hispanic Republicans are very similar to those of White Republicans, in contrast to differences seen among Democrats.
There are similar patterns in confidence in scientists. (However, the sample size for Black Republicans in the survey is too small to analyze on these measures.) See the Appendix for more.