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The Anthropology of Modern Republicans

elephant_evolution2_V1Pew Research released its recent polling on acceptance of evolution and the results are depressing. The most talked about demographic result has to be the finding that since 2009 there has been an 11 point plunge in Republicans willing to acknowledge humans evolved over time.


Most of the commentary I’ve read suggests this is a consequence of “motivated reasoning.” In other words, respondents are using belief in evolution as a proxy for “are you a good Republican?” Using poll questions as tribal markers isn’t unique to Republicans. Both parties, for example, are likely to think the economy is doing worse than it actually is when the president is from the other party.

It’s also possible that people that accept science have been leaving the GOP. Or I suppose Republicans might just be getting dumber. Commentators focused on the cause of the decline and if tribalism is truly the reason for it seem to be asking the wrong anthropological question. The mystery is why being a good Republican means you have to be anti-science. Just reflect on that particular tribal characteristic of the GOP. When pollsters ask questions, self-identified Republicans are subconsciously motivated to be more ignorant.

(elephant image)

  1. Bill
    January 3, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I have an easier time understanding why the Republicans continue their descent into stupidity, whether it is because of religion (mostly fundies) or their disdain for intellectualism, than I do understanding why only 67% of Democrats and 65% of Independents believe in evolution. I really thought that number would be higher. Like in the high 90’s. I mentioned these findings at work and was given this brisk answer by one colleague: “Bill, we live in a stupid country.” Maybe its as simple as that. It sure is baffling nonetheless.

    • January 3, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      Tell me about it! Only 72% of people would have graduated college believe humans evolved over time. In a few months or so, Pew should release a fuller demographic breakdown that I’m interested in reading.

  2. Bill
    January 4, 2014 at 8:46 am


    Looking at the Pew findings a little closer this morning, they noted that “White evangelical Protestants are particularly likely to believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Roughly two-thirds (64%) express this view, as do half of black Protestants (50%). By comparison, only 15% of white mainline Protestants share this opinion.”

    If you look at the pie chart above, it shows that the democratic party is comprised of 9% white evangelicals, 14% mainstream protestants and 16% black protestants. Applying the above percentages of these groups who do not believe in evolution would account for about 16% in total. So if religion alone were to account for disbelief of evolution, then we would see about 84% of Democrats still believing in evolution. Please check my math. But Pew shows that only 67% do. Wow.

    Pew does note that “Differences in the racial and ethnic composition of Democrats and Republicans or differences in their levels of religious commitment do not wholly explain partisan differences in beliefs about evolution. Indeed, the partisan differences remain even when taking these other characteristics into account.” It goes on to note that “Beliefs about human and animal evolution tend to vary by gender, age and education.” Women, older adults and the less educated had higher percentages of people who believed that humans have existed in present form. How these groups factor into the political party breakdowns would be interesting to note. Nonetheless, is it fair to assume that while religious beliefs account for most of the views against evolution, it does not explain all of them? That is pretty remarkable, at least to me.

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