Nearly two-thirds of Americans agree that spending on the space program is justified, and fewer people think that NASA's budget should be reduced or eliminated than at any time since 1
But much is known about . less why various Americans are in favor of space exploration.This would be a useful piece of information for policy makers – all the stripes who hope to persuade the public to open their portfolios. This is a question David Burbach, a political scientist at the American College of Naval War in Rhode Island, tried to answer in a new study published in Space Policy. Priorities Crossed Priorities
Previous work has identified demographic or social disparities in public support for the space program. Being young, white, male, or college educated all corresponds to more support for NASA than being older, non-white, female, or with a lower educational level. Evangelical Christians are cooler about the idea than the rest of the nation, but as it turns out, there isn't much separation between Republican and Democratic voters on the subject.
The 2018 Pew study we mentioned above found that while public support for NASA is strong, the agency's priorities are not shared by the public. NASA is focused on crews flying to the moon and Mars, while the public is very much asking the agency to monitor our climate and protect us from murderous asteroids.
The problem facing anyone trying to determine the motives for supporting a space program is that you have to ask them the right question to get their feelings. Unfortunately, while public opinion about the space program has been questioned since the dawn of the space age, the motivations are not well understood. So Burbach set out to find answers in another way, comparing opinions on the spending of the space program with other, more well-researched attitudes, such as those about the military or the environment. For example, if there is a weak relationship between support for space exploration and defense spending among Democrats, this could be useful information when we propose an increase in the NASA House of Representatives budget.
Burbach's dataset comes from the General Social Survey, which polled Americans since 1972, initially annually and later every other year. In total, this study included approximately 62,000 cumulative respondents from 1973 to 2016. Using this data, he examined the links between support for space program funding and military funding, environmental funding, social program funding, and finally, "trust in science. "He then looked at whether these correlations were different from political affiliation.
Although there is a relationship between political affiliation and support for the space program, it is small. Once other variables are controlled," the model predicts, that a Democrat would be 10 percent more likely to ask for more spending and a Republican would have a 14 percent chance. "As expected, Americans who supported higher military spending also supported more space funding. There are there will be even greater support for increasing space funding among respondents who have high confidence in science, and a small but positive relationship between environmental support and space funding.
When Burbach added party affiliation to the analysis, the differences turned out to be insignificant. Republicans who support the space program are less likely to support social spending, and Democrats and independents who support the environment are a little more likely to support the space program. Burbach did not see the expected negative link between space and social funding among Democrats.
Burbach then examined how these various correlations develop over time. The demographic sections identified earlier have been narrowing since 1973, thanks to increasing support for the space program among women and non-whites. The gap in support between the different levels of academic achievement has narrowed most significantly since the 1970s. But the trends in each party group are much smaller.
Since the 1970s, Democrats who have supported space funding have become little less supportive of military spending and little more supportive of environmental spending. But the trends for Republicans and those two categories are flat. Both Democrats and Republicans who support space funding have become increasingly favorable for social spending. Finally, support for space funding has grown among Democrats who trust science, but not Republicans.
In such contentious times, it is good to see that one's political biases have so little effect on support for space. However, Burbach warns that formulating support for space exploration as a national issue for Republican security and an environmental problem for Democrats can create problems if "negative partisanship" – if it proposes something because your political opponents support it – enters in force. Space Policy 2019. DOI: 10.1016 / j.spacepol.2019.08.001 (For DOI)