Trust in scientists, other authorities declines in US amid pandemic

Once seemingly buoyed by their central role in addressing the coronavirus outbreak, medical professionals and scientists are losing the public’s confidence.

 A man wears an anti-vaccine button as people and teachers protest against New York City mandated vaccines (photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR)
A man wears an anti-vaccine button as people and teachers protest against New York City mandated vaccines
(photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR)

Confidence in medical professionals and scientists has sunk down to its lowest point since before the COVID-19 pandemic began in the US, a new Pew Research Center report published Tuesday has found.

Once seemingly buoyed by their central role in addressing the coronavirus outbreak, medical professionals and scientists are losing the American public’s confidence. A January 2019 survey showed that 86% of respondents had a “fair amount” or “a great deal” of confidence in scientists, while an April 2020 survey during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic found that 87% of respondents felt this way. That number dropped to 77% in a December 2021 poll, and the differences are more pronounced across political lines.

While 90% of Democrat or left-leaning respondents said they have a “fair amount” or “a great deal” of confidence in scientists, this number is only 66% among Republicans, with just 34% of conservative-leaning respondents saying they express a “great deal” of confidence in the scientific community. Further, the share of Democrats expressing strong confidence in medical scientists has fallen 10% since November 2020.

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, attitudes regarding the pandemic and corresponding policies have become a form of political identity, with Democrats embracing stricter health and epidemic prevention measures while Republicans denounce COVID-related laws and mandates as a violation of personal liberties.

 A person attaches a flag to a truck as truckers and their supporters continue to protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, February 7, 2022. (credit: PATRICK DOYLE) A person attaches a flag to a truck as truckers and their supporters continue to protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, February 7, 2022. (credit: PATRICK DOYLE)

Scientists were not the only group impacted by the increased skepticism: Police officers, the military, religious leaders, and even school principals saw decreases in the public’s confidence towards them. Elected officials, long the authority group with the lowest levels of public confidence, have also suffered a drop in approval, with just 24% of respondents saying they had a “fair amount” or “a great deal” of confidence in elected officials to act in the best interests of the public – down from 37% just last year.