According to a new survey from Pew, Republican acceptance of evolution dropped from 54% in 2009 to 43% in 2013. Why is this happening? [Image by Petter Bøckman]
One possible explanation for the Republican drop is that pro-evolution Republicans have been leaving the party.
Another potential explanation is religious commitment. It could be the case that more religious conservatives have been moving into Republican ranks, swelling opposition to evolution. But, as Pew states, "levels of religious commitment do not wholly explain partisan differences in beliefs about evolution."
What other explanations are left?
I think we should consider the possibility that there is a rising culture of anti-intellectualism among conservatives. Driven by a panopticon of right-wing thought leaders--talk show hosts, writers, clergy, and politicians--and reinforcing influences like Fox News, standards of thought on the right appear to be at a low ebb. Comment sections on right-wing websites (e.g., freerepublic.com) are rife with socialist this and fascist that, rage-filled and suspicious mutterings about a vastly powerful "gay agenda," speculations about an alleged purge of the military by the communist in chief, and assertions that when Obama and the Democrats did ___, it's equivalent to or worse than slavery or the holocaust or Hitler. It's alarmingly easy to find anti-scientific and absurd claims coming from the highest levels within organized conservatism as well as the GOP establishment. The paranoid style has never left us, but it now has radio, cable television, the internet, and a political Rosetta Stone that can decipher the source of all that ails the conservative conscience: liberalism. Could it be that anti-liberal sentiment is finally locating what it believes to be the source of that dread liberalism, evolution?
There are no doubt psychological factors at work in connection with the re-election of Obama and all of its real and imagined implications for conservative hopes for the country. Consider the seemingly unstoppable march of same sex marriage through the states or the demographics of race. How much is economic insecurity propelling an embrace of simple answers and comforting illusions? Is conservative fear over lost cultural influence and the pace of change enticing some people back to former ontological commitments as a source of stability?
Whatever's behind this trend against evolution among some portion of the population, it reinforces for me the observation that we don't yet have an educational system or social ecology adequately supportive of science (and creativity, freethought, imagination, human rights, etc.) that's anywhere near what it could and must become.