Via the Independent Journal Review, I meant to post this yesterday but got sidetracked by the Chernobyl.

Tea partiers are as far ahead of the science curve relative to the general population, Yale professor Dan Kahan’s data shows, as liberal Democrats are relative to conservative Republicans. It’s a small difference, but it’s there — and so sharply contrary is it to the left’s view of TPers that Kahan felt obliged to acknowledge that fact explicitly.

I’ve got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I’d be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension.

But then again, I don’t know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable tv — & I don’t watch Fox News very often — and reading the “paper” (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).

I’m a little embarrassed, but mainly I’m just glad that I no longer hold this particular mistaken view…

I’ll now be much less surprised, too, if it turns out that someone I meet at, say, the Museum of Science in Boston, or the Chabot Space and Science Museum in Oakland, or the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is part of the 20% (geez– I must know some of them) who would answer “yes” when asked if he or she identifies with the Tea Party. If the person is there, then it will almost certainly be the case that that he or she & I will agree on how cool the stuff is at the museum, even if we don’t agree about many other matters of consequence.

Rest assured, he says, he still views the tea party in “very negative” moral and political terms, but they’re better read than he thought. I don’t know why he’s surprised, though: One of the very first major media polls conducted back in 2010, when the movement was coalescing, found even at the time that tea partiers are wealthier and better educated than the population at large. TPers are in the first column here, then “all respondents,” and then the difference between them:


Go figure that people who have more education will do better on science questions. Don’t forget either that tea partiers skew older, and older Americans may have absorbed more science in their reading over time than younger ones have. Pew Research flagged that as a partial explanation, in fact, back in April 2012 when it found that Republicans outperformed Democrats on average in a test of political knowledge. And while I don’t have data handy to support this, I’d guess that voters who are politically active generally, wherever they lie on the ideological spectrum, are probably better educated (even if self-educated) on average than the rest of the population. If you’re engaged deeply with political ideas, you’re probably engaged with other types of ideas too. If you’re reading widely about news and politics, you’re probably reading about unrelated subjects in your intellectual travels. I stumble across interesting science news all the time in putting together “Headlines,” for instance, not because I’m hunting for it but because I’ll spot it on a site that I happen to be visiting for political coverage. Maybe that bleed-over effect was different (or, rather, less pronounced) before the information age but now, if you’re surfing around on news and political sites, stories on far-flung subjects are almost impossible to avoid. I’d bet lefty activists also tend to skew a tiny bit higher than the population in science knowledge than the rest of the population for that same reason. A news junkie’s a news junkie, even one who specializes.