In late 2013, the Pew Research Center polled hundreds of individuals regarding their belief about evolution. The results of that research, now available, have served to identify yet another fault line in the cultural divide that does more than separate Republicans from Democrats; it even points to a cleavage among Republicans. Consider the percentages in the table shown below.
Questions Regarding Humans
2009 Humans have Evolved Always Existed in Present Form
All subjects: 61 31
Republicans 54 39
Democrats 64 30
All subjects: 60 33
Republicans 43 48
Democrats 67 27
To best understand the aforementioned “divide”, look down the columns from 2009 to 2013 for all subjects and then the Republicans and Democrats. For “Belief in evolution”, the totals for “All subjects” hardly changes (61 to 60). The same is true for those among “All subjects” who believed that humans have “Always Existed in their Present Form (31 to 33). Basically, the same pattern appeared for the Democrats. Those who believe in evolution changed from 64 to 67, while those who believe humans always existed in their present form went from 30 to 27. The striking changes are to be seen among the Republican respondents. Their belief in human evolution dropped from 54 to 43 while those Republicans who believed that humans always existed in heir present form rose from 39 to 48.
The between-party cultural divide to be seen in the foregoing numbers expresses itself in two ways: (1) Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe in human evolution, and (2) less likely to believe that humans have always existed in their present form. These disparities were evident in 2009 and became even more pronounced in 2013.
Now, look at the cleavage within Republicans. Therein, you see statistically significant change in the forms of a drop in those who believe in human evolution, contrasted with a meaningful increment in those who hold to the view that humans have always existed in their present form.
What is to be made of these between-group and within-group differences? First, the most plausible interpretation is that more Democrats than Republicans have their beliefs shaped by science and facts. Second, it would seem that over time, the number of Republicans whose beliefs are science- and fact-based has declined. Taken together, these views point to either many Republicans changing their beliefs, OR, that numbers of Republicans are leaving the party for whatever reason, becoming either Democrats or political Independents.
While at present, there is no certain way to determine which is the true case, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence to consider. Specifically, as the Republican party lurches farther and farther to the right with a greater and greater emphasis on social conservatism in the forms of anti-same-sex marriage and abortion, it is possible that more moderate party members are simply choosing to abandoned that affiliation, taking with them, their belief in evolution. They may ultimately vote “Republican” but prefer not to be identified as one, at least no right now.
It will be fascinating to see how this intra-GOP split gets resolved by the time the party picks its presidential candidate. Will s/he be of a more or less moderate, fact-driven individual? The answer will be provided by the faction within the party that holds the upper hand at convention time. Right now, there is no question that it’s the more extreme, less fact-driven Tea Party. Will they prevail? Get the popcorn, sit back and watch.