July 1, 2015

Americans, Politics and Science Issues

Chapter 3: Support for Government Funding

Overall, a solid majority of adults in the U.S. say government investment in both basic science research and in engineering and technology “pay off in the long run” (71% and 72%, respectively). A minority says government investments in either area are not worth it. Support for government investments has held steady since Pew Research last asked about these topics in 2009, however, the share saying that such funding efforts are “not worth it” has risen slightly.

Most See Benefit From Government Research FundingPublic attitudes about government funding of science and engineering are related to political and ideological differences, in keeping with political differences over government funding issues more broadly. However, majorities of both party groups say that government funding of basic research and of engineering and technology pay off in the long run. In addition, those with more education and more science knowledge tend to express more support for government funding in these areas.

When asked to weigh the necessity of government as opposed to private investment in research funding, 61% of adults say government funding is essential to ensure that enough scientific progress is made while 34% say that private funding would be enough even without government funding.

Support for Government Investment in Basic Science

Support for Basic Science FundingRoughly seven-in-ten adults (71%) say that government funding for basic science research pays off in the long run, 24% say such funding is not worth it.

Gender, Age, Race and Ethnicity

Support for government funding of research tends to be widespread across the demographic spectrum. Women are slightly more likely than men (74% vs. 68%) to say that government funding of basic science pays off in the long run.

Hispanics tend to express more support for government funding of science research than do whites and blacks.

Younger generations are a bit more likely than older ones to say research funding pays off, though a majority of all age groups say that government funding of basic science pays off in the long run. 36

Support for Basic Science Funding, by Education and Science KnowledgeEducation and Knowledge

College graduates tend to express more support for research funding than do those with less formal education, although majorities of all education groups say that government funding in this area pays off in the long run. And, those who have a college-level or higher degree in a science field tend to express even more support for government funding of basic research. Those who know more about science, generally, are more likely than those with less science knowledge to see benefits from government funding of science research.

Party and Ideology

Support for Basic Science Funding, by Party and IdeologyDemocrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party are more likely to see benefits from government spending on basic science than are Republicans and independents who lean to the Republican Party (83% see benefits, compared with 62% who do not). Liberals are more likely to consider government investment in basic science to pay off in the long run (83%), compared to either moderates (71%) or conservatives (66%).

There are no differences between conservative Republicans and moderate or liberal Republicans in views about this issue, however. Liberal Democrats are modestly more inclined than conservative or moderate Democrats to say that government investment in science research pays off in the long run (89% compared with 81%).

Multivariate Analyses

Factors Associated With Views About Government Funding of Basic Scientific ResearchA multivariate logistic regression analysis finds that partisan affiliation as well as education and knowledge factors predict support for government funding of basic science. Those with a postgraduate degree are more likely to say that science funding pays off in the long run (+0.12), compared with those with high school education or less and holding all other variables at their means. Those with more science knowledge also are more likely (+0.08) than those with less knowledge to say that such funding pays off. Looking at the combined effect of education and knowledge, those with a high school degree or less and less science knowledge have a predicted probability of 0.70, those with a college degree and more science knowledge have a predicted probability of 0.85, and those with a post-graduate degree and more science knowledge have a predicted probability of 0.91 of saying government investment in science pays off in the long run.

Those who identify with or lean to the Republican Party are 19 percentage points less likely to say science funding pays off, compared with those who identify or lean to the Democratic Party. Similarly, those with no party affiliation or leaning are 20 percentage points more likely than Democrats and leaning Democrats to say science research funding pays off in the long run. In addition, Hispanics (+0.12) are more supportive of science funding than are non-Hispanic whites, controlling for other factors. Differences by gender and age are not statistically significant once other factors are controlled.

Support for Government Funding of Engineering and Technology

Support for Funding in Engineering and TechnologyViews about government funding of engineering and technology are similar to those for basic scientific research. Overall, 72% of adults say that government investments in engineering and technology pay off in the long run, while 22% say such investments are not worth it.

Gender, Age, Race and Ethnicity

Majorities of all major demographic groups see benefits from government funding of engineering and technology initiatives. Unlike views about basic science, men and women are about equally likely to say that government funding of engineering pays off in the long run (72% each).

Younger adults are, on average, more likely than older ones to say research funding in engineering and technology pays off in the long run.

Support for government funding of engineering and technology is somewhat higher among blacks and Hispanics (78% each) than it is among non-Hispanic whites (70%).

Education and Knowledge

Support for Engineering and Technology Funding by Education, Science Knowledge, Party and IdeologyAs with views about funding of basic science, views about funding of engineering and technology tend to vary by education. Those with some college or more education (and especially those holding a postgraduate degree) are more likely than those with less schooling to believe government investment in engineering and technology pays off.

Similarly, those with more science knowledge and those who have a degree in a scientific field are more inclined to see long term benefits from government support of engineering and technology.

Party and Ideology

Views about government investment in engineering and technology also tend to vary by party and ideology. Republicans and leaning Republicans are less likely than their Democratic counterparts to see benefits from government investment in engineering and technology, but a majority of both party groups says that such investments pay off in the long run. Conservatives (66%) are, on average, less likely than either moderates (72%) or liberals (86%) to say that government investments in this area pay off.

Multivariate Analyses

Factors Associated With Views About Government Funding of Engineering and TechnologyA multivariate logistic regression analysis finds that party, ideology, education and knowledge factors predict support for government funding of engineering and technology. Those with more science knowledge are 10 percentage points more likely than those with less knowledge to say that science funding pays off in the long run. Those with a postgraduate degree also are more likely to say such funding pays off (+0.10), compared with those who have a high school diploma or less schooling. Those who have a postgraduate degree and more science knowledge have a predicted probability of 0.91 while those who have a high school degree or less and less science knowledge on this index have a predicted probability of 0.72 of saying that government investment in engineering and technology pays off in the long run, a difference which rounds to 20 percentage points.

Party and ideology also have discernible effects predicting views on this issue. Those who identify with or lean to the Republican Party are 13 percentage points less likely to say funding pays off. Those with no party affiliation or leaning are 18 percentage points more likely than Democrats and independents who lean to the Democrats to say that government investments in engineering and technology pay off in the long run. And conservatives are less likely than liberals to say that funding of engineering and technology pays off (-0.08).

Differences by age are not statistically significant once other factors are controlled.

Government vs. Private Funding and Scientific Innovation

Views About Government, Private Funding and Scientific ProgressA majority of adults consider government funding essential for scientific progress (61%), while 34% say that private investment would be enough to ensure progress even without government investment. The share of adults who say government funding is essential has held steady since 2009. There has been a slight rise in the view that private investment, without government funds, will be enough to ensure scientific progress (from 29% in 2009 to 34% in 2014). The modest differences over time stem from a greater share of adults expressing an opinion in the 2014 survey than did so in 2009.

Gender, Age, Race and Ethnicity

There are few differences in views about this issue across major demographic groups. Men and women tend to hold similar views as do younger and older adults. Whites are somewhat more likely than Hispanics to say that private investment would be enough to ensure progress. Blacks’ views are not significantly different from the views of whites or Hispanics on this issue.

Education and Knowledge

Government, Private Funding in Scientific Progress by Education, Science KnowledgeThere are some modest differences in views on this issue among education groups. Those with a high school degree or less are less likely than college graduates (and especially those with a postgraduate degree) to believe government funding is essential for scientific progress.

Among college graduates, there are no differences between those with science training and those with training in other fields.

And, there are no differences between those with more and less knowledge about science on this question.

Party and Ideology

Party and Ideological Differences in Views About Government, Private Funding and Scientific ProgressThere are sizeable differences in views about government and private funding of science across party and ideological groups. A majority of Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party see government investment as essential to ensure scientific progress (76%). Those affiliated with or leaning to the GOP are closely divided, with 49% saying that government funding is essential and 47% saying the private funding will be enough to ensure scientific progress, even without government funds.

Liberals are more inclined than conservatives (77% compared with 52%) to see government funding as essential. Moderates fall in between these two groups – 63% of moderates say the government investment is essential and 34% say private investment will be enough to ensure progress.

There are sizeable differences among ideologically consistent party groups on this issue. A majority of conservative Republicans (55%) say private investment will be enough to ensure scientific progress. By contrast, just 16% of liberal Democrats say private investment will be enough; 82% say that government funding is essential.

Multivariate Analyses

Factors Associated With Views About Role of Government vs. Private Funding in Ensuring Scientific Progress A multivariate logistic regression finds strong party and ideological factors predicting views on this issue. Republicans and leaning Republicans, relative to their Democratic counterparts, are 27 percentage points more likely to hold the view that private investment will be enough to ensure progress, even without government investment. Those with no party affiliation or leaning also are more likely to say this (+0.20). Conservatives (+0.15) and moderates (+0.09) are more likely to take this position than are liberals. And, when all other factors are held at their mean, blacks are 13 percentage points more likely than whites to say that private investment will be enough to ensure scientific progress. Those with a postgraduate degree are less likely to say private investment will be enough (-0.11 compared with those who have a high school education or less schooling).

  1. Younger adults, ages 18 to 29, were much more likely than seniors to consider scientific research along with improving the educational system to be top priorities for Obama and Congress to address during this term. See Pew Research Center’s 2015 report, “Public’s Policy Priorities Reflect Changing Conditions at Home and Abroad.”