Gallup has just released a scary new poll that indicates just how much work still lies before us as a nation--and just how frightening is the prospect of Republican rule. The majority of Americans are still likelier to believe in creationism than in evolution--with an amazing 7 out of 10 Republicans holding fast to their literalist beliefs.
Most depressingly, the figures for the American people in general have not moved significantly since 1982--both according to the Gallup polls and a number of others. The fantastic site Polling Report has a rundown of the major polls on just about every major sociopolitical issue, including evolution and politics. The numbers are anything but encouraging: in 1982, 38% of Americans thought that human beings were created over the course of millions of years, but God guided the process; 9% thought God played no part; and 44% said we were created by God in our current form (9% stated "other"). In 2007, those numbers have shifted only slightly, with 38% for divine guidence, 14% for no divine role, and 43% for creationism. A 2005 Harris poll showed 6% fewer Americans believing in human evolution than they had in 1994.
While the overall numbers for Americans are depressing, the political divide is nothing short of astonishing. As Gallup says:
The majority of Republicans in the United States do not believe the theory of evolution is true and do not believe that humans evolved over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. This suggests that when three Republican presidential candidates at a May debate stated they did not believe in evolution, they were generally in sync with the bulk of the rank-and-file Republicans whose nomination they are seeking to obtain.
Independents and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe in the theory of evolution. But even among non-Republicans there appears to be a significant minority who doubt that evolution adequately explains where humans came from.
The partisan numbers are 68% creationism to 30% evolution among Republicans, and 57% evolution to 40% creationism among Democrats. Of course, the divide between those who attend church regularly and those who do not is far larger (74% creationism to 24% evolution among those who attend church weekly, compared with 71% to 26% the other way), but that is largely to be expected. It is also important to note that many Americans appear to hold somewhat conflicted and contradictory beliefs. As Gallup goes on to say:
The data indicate some seeming confusion on the part of Americans on this issue. About a quarter of Americans say they believe both in evolution's explanation that humans evolved over millions of years and in the creationist explanation that humans were created as is about 10,000 years ago... <snip>
It might seem contradictory to believe that humans were created in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years and at the same time believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. But, based on an analysis of the two side-by-side questions asked this month about evolution and creationism, it appears that a substantial number of Americans hold these conflicting views.
While I have no direct evidence to support this claim, I think it stands to reason that more moderates, independents and Democrats are likely to hold contradictory beliefs on this issue: I know several religious Democrats who stick to the principle that science and faith are entirely separate, and willing to live with a contradictory dichotomy between the Bible's literal words and the scientific evidence. Such contradictory beliefs are not generally in keeping with the dogmatic views of the fundamentalist Christians who tend to reject scientific evidence entirely.
Most interesting and underreported in stories covering this issue, however, are the numbers among independents: a full 61% of independents believe in evolution, compared to 37% for creationism--a higher belief in evolution than among Democrats. Factoring in the stunning increase in the number of voters who call themselves Independent (32.9% of the population), this is but another example of a strong majority of "swing" voting population moving away from bread-and-butter Republican beliefs in some pretty fundamental issues. It is a scary thing for a rightist political party when Independents actually stand to the left of the bulk of the Left's party constituents.
Gallup sums it up nicely:
Being religious in America today is strongly related to partisanship, with more religious Americans in general much more likely to be Republicans than to be independents or Democrats. This relationship helps explain the finding that Republicans are significantly more likely than independents or Democrats to say they do not believe in evolution. When three Republican presidential candidates said in a May debate that they did not believe in evolution, the current analysis suggests that many Republicans across the country no doubt agreed.
To me, the upshot is this: we have an increasingly hostile ideological divide in this country between the two parties, with one side avowedly in favor of Luddite ignorance when it comes to evolution, and the other with a solid majority of more reasoned (if often contradictory) beliefs. And while the views of the American public at large in this deeply divided country have not shifted dramatically, the views of Independent voters have swung sharply in the direction of Democrats--and on a fundamental issue that is not subject to prevailing political winds or current events.
Once again, we have a situation where the differences between the two parties could not be more clear; where the Republican Party is showing itself to be increasingly irrational, dangerous, and in hock to the extreme Christianist right; and where the Democratic Party has little to lose with crucial swing voters by standing strong on its principles.
Because to put it bluntly, in the year 2007, a party accountable to a constituency with a supermajority of believers in Biblical literalism simply cannot be allowed to rule. We have seen the consequences of such willful ignorance for the last 6 years, and we can no longer afford to be patient with it.