Survey finds US public backs higher tax to support research

Thursday, October 15, 2020

R&D gets scant attention in partisan politics despite widespread support, says head of advocacy group.Two-thirds of the US public would support paying $1 more a week in taxes to fund scientific research, according to a survey commissioned by the advocacy group Research!America, which also found high levels of support for government funding of such research across political alignments. Research!America president Mary Woolley told Research Professional News it is “ironic” that such strong bipartisan support for science gets crowded out from political discourse during polarised elections like the current presidential race. “In every election cycle there’s really very little attention to R&D, very little discussion about science,” Woolley said. The survey, published on 8 October , found that 77 per cent of Americans view basic science as necessary and something that should be supported by the federal government. It found that 79 per cent think the United States should increase the share of GDP invested in research to between 3-5 per cent. The country currently spends 2.8 per cent of GDP on R&D. Asked about paying $1 more a week in taxes to fund scientific research, 36 per cent of the survey respondents said they would strongly support such a move, 30 per cent said they would support it, 12 per cent were somewhat opposed, 12 per cent strongly opposed and 10 per cent were not sure. Democrat respondents tended to show the strongest support for scientific research, with 81 per cent willing to pay $1 more a week in taxes to support it, followed by 64 per cent of Republicans and 52 per cent of independents. Donald Trump has requested significant cuts to federal research spending in the 2021 budget, but the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has passed spending bills maintaining or increasing funds for R&D. Republicans have also tabled legislation for major increases in basic research funding, spooked by the prospect of China becoming the global leader in R&D. “We haven’t seen that kind of bipartisan, big, bold…legislation for years,” said Woolley. “So I’m optimistic, regardless actually of who’s president come next year, that we will see significant increase in support for science across the board.” 1/2 The survey also showed widespread support for scientists to have a role in political decision-making, with 80 per cent of respondents saying elected officials should listen to scientists. “All elected leaders should take note of the high expectations and enormous support for science held by the American public,” said Sudip Parikh, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The survey of 1,025 people, carried out in August 2020, also revealed a generational divide, with only 69 per cent of 18-29 year olds supporting more spending on scientific research, compared with 79 per cent of all adults. Young people were also less likely to agree that the US should be a global leader in research, and less likely to approve of a government incentive payment for students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Woolley said this trend was “disturbing”, asking: “How could this be that the people who arguably have the most to gain from a strong, robust R&D commitment in this country and globally are less likely to support it?” 

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco