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A new poll on evolution and climate change

A new poll asked respondents about their views on evolution and climate change, what they regard the scientific consensus on those topics to be, and whether it matters to them whether candidates for president share their views. The poll (PDF) was designed and conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service.

On the topic of evolution, 57% of respondents said that "Humans and other living things have evolved over time" came closest to their view, while 38% preferred "Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since creation," 1% volunteered different responses, and 4% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question. (In a 2009 poll [PDF] from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 61% of respondents from the general public preferred "Humans and other living things have evolved over time." The discrepancy between the results may be due in part to a difference in the wording of the alternative: where the PRRI/RNS poll refers to "creation," the Pew Research Center poll refers to the less overtly religious "the beginning of time." )

The distribution of opinion among political positions and religious affiliations in the PRRI/RNS poll was broadly consistent with that reported in previous polls and surveys. PRRI noted, "More than 6-in-10 political independents (61%) and Democrats (64%) affirm a belief in evolution, compared to 45% of Republicans and 43% of Americans who identify with the Tea Party," adding, "Nearly two-thirds (66%) of white mainline Protestants, 61% of Catholics, and 77% of the unaffiliated believe humans and other living things evolved over time, compared to only about one-third (32%) of white evangelicals. African American Protestants are evenly divided on the question, with 47% affirming a belief in evolution and 46% affirming a belief in creationism."

Among those who accepted evolution, 53% preferred "Humans and other things have evolved due to natural processes such as natural selection," 38% preferred "A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today," 3% volunteered different responses, and 6% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question. Of those who rejected evolution, 50% agreed with "humans and other living things were created within the last 10,000 years," 39% disagreed, and 12% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question. PRRI noted, "White evangelical Protestants (33%) and Americans who identify with the Tea Party (31%) were significantly more likely" to agree with the 10,000-year option.

On climate change, 69% of respondents said that they believe that "there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades," with 26% saying that they did not believe it, 2% volunteering that there is some or mixed evidence, and 3% saying that they didn't know or refusing to answer the question. Among those who believed that there is evidence (whether solid or mixed), 64% said that "[c]limate change is caused mostly by human activity such as burning fossil fuels" came closest to their view, while 32% preferred "[c]limate change is caused mostly by natural patterns in the earth's environment" instead, and 4% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question.

Asked "do scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time, are scientists divided, or do scientists generally disagree that humans evolved over time," 51% of respondents said that scientists agree, 26% said that scientists were divided, 15% said that scientists disagreed, and 9% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question. Similarly, asked "do scientists generally agree that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity, are scientists divided, or do scientists generally disagree that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity," 40% of respondents said that scientists agree, 37% said that scientists were divided, 15% said that scientists disagreed, and 8% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question.

Asked whether, and if so how, a presidential candidate's rejection of evolution would affect the likelihood that they would vote for him or her, 13% of respondents said that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who "[d]oes not believe in evolution," 32% said that they would be less likely, 53% said that it would not make a difference, and 2% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question. Similarly, 9% of respondents said that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who "[d]oes not believe climate change is caused by human activity," 36% said that they would be less likely, 54% said that it would not make a difference, and 2% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question.

According to PRRI, “Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) random digit dial telephone interviews conducted between September 14, 2011 and September 18, 2011, by professional interviewers … The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.0 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence."