There has been quite a bit of attention paid to a recent Pew poll that revealed that belief in evolution has dropped sharply from 54% in 2009 to 43% today among those who identify themselves as Republicans, while belief among the overall population has remained the same at about 60%.
It should be noted that what was asked was a very minimal form of evolution, whether “humans and other living things have evolved over time” and among those you said yes, there were still many who found a role for their god in the process.
About half of those who express a belief in human evolution take the view that evolution is “due to natural processes such as natural selection” (32% of the American public overall). But many Americans believe that God or a supreme being played a role in the process of evolution. Indeed, roughly a quarter of adults (24%) say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”
Why has Republican belief in evolution dropped in an increasingly scientific age? That question has not been addressed by this survey but it cannot be immaterial that this drop coincides with the rise of the extremist religion-inspired faction within the party. There is within the Republican party now a bloc that has a package of beliefs consisting of a desire for low taxes, reduced government and public services (except for those things that directly benefit them), xenophobia, and religion-based anti-women and anti-gay sentiment. This group sees themselves as beleaguered, fighting to preserve what they see as fundamental American values against those forces that seek to undermine the things they hold most dear.
This kind of siege thinking is not congenial to those who do not see the current political conflicts in such stark, even paranoid, terms. So what may be happening is that the party is now attracting people who are willing to buy into almost the whole package and driving out those who are not on board with many of them. Since I suspect that those beliefs correlate with a strong anti-science sentiment, this could lead to the drop in support for evolution that we see.
It would be really interesting to see if that is the case.