It’s unfortunate that my post about denialism among Republican candidates for president, has in the comments become a discussion of what polls show.
It’s true, as Robert pointed out with this link, too many Democrats don’t believe in evolution. And yet, I doubt any Democratic running for President would dare admit to not believing in evolution in a national debate, whereas about a third of the Republican candidates did. That’s an important difference, but what accounts for it?
The answer is partly in the polling numbers. According to Robert’s link, more Democrats (49%) believe in evolution than not (47%). That’s within the margin of error, admittedly, but it’s clear that the anti-science folks have a strength among Republican voters they lack among Democrats. 49% of Kerry voters versus 28% of Bush voters believe in evolution; 24% of Kerry voters vs 45% of Bush voters want Creationism taught in the classrooms. Those differences aren’t small.
Even more important than the polling numbers, though, is how voters in each party prioritize their beliefs. Denialism exist among Democratic voters — but anti-evolution Democrats aren’t forming coalitions to elect Democrats who believe in creationism and related views. Their Republican counterparts do form such coalitions. This makes a huge difference to who is electable in each party.
Among Republicans, creationism1 — and the anti-science, anti-rationality baggage creationism carries — isn’t a barrier to high political office. Few Republican party activists will abandon a major Republican candidate who is a creationist; they can’t afford to utterly reject creationism, because the denialism creationism represents is a major part of the Republican coalition.
In contrast, for many Democratic party activists belief in creationism is a deal-breaker. Outside of Detroit, being a denialist on global warming is a deal-breaker. Thinking that one could diagnose Terri Schiavo via a TV screen would be, among Democratic party activists, a deal-breaker.
The issue isn’t who has a bunch of evolution denialists among their voters; both parties do (although the Republicans have many more). The issue is which party is prone to electing anti-science denialists. And this matters because anti-science denialists are incapable of governing responsibly on issues which require valuing science over ideology and religious fundamentalism.
Denialism isn’t only about creationism. It’s about FDA drug approval. It’s about who knows better what abortion procedures are safe for women: Congress or doctors. It’s about lesbian and gay couples, and about lesbian and gay parents. It’s about if Iraq is going swimmingly for the U.S.. It’s about global warming. It’s about any issue where religious fundamentalism and ideology are pulling a politician one way, while facts and science pull the other way.
And — contrary to what some of my lefty allies believe — it’s a significant difference between the two major parties.
UPDATE: Amanda comments.
- “Creationism” requires a rejection of evolution. So someone who says “God used evolution to create” isn’t a creationist, in my view. [↩]