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On Evolution, A Widening Political Gap, Pew Says

The divide between Republicans and Democrats on their views of the scientific theory of evolution is widening, according to a new poll released by Pew's Religion & Public Life Project.

The overall percentage of Americans who say "humans and other living things evolved over time" (60 percent) versus those who believe "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time" (33 percent) is about the same as it was in a similar poll four years ago. But the political gap has widened substantially.

In 2009, 54 percent of Republicans said they accepted the theory of evolution as true, compared with 64 percent of Democrats. But in the intervening years, opinions appear to have evolved: In the latest poll, nearly half of Republicans (48 percent) believed in a static view of human and animal origins, while just 30 percent of Democrats expressed that point of view. Independents tracked closely with the breakdown for Democrats.

"The gap is coming from the Republicans, where fewer are now saying that humans have evolved over time," says Cary Funk, a Pew senior researcher who conducted the analysis, according to Reuters.

Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of those surveyed by Pew said they believed that a "supreme being guided evolution for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today."

According to Pew:

"A majority of white evangelical Protestants (64%) and half of black Protestants (50%) say that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. But in other large religious groups, a minority holds this view. In fact, nearly eight-in-ten white mainline Protestants (78%) say that humans and other living things have evolved over time. Three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated (76%) and 68% of white non-Hispanic Catholics say the same. About half of Hispanic Catholics (53%) believe that humans have evolved over time, while 31% reject that idea."

Broken down by age, respondents 18-29 years old were about 20 percent more likely to accept evolution as were the 65+ age group. The gap between college graduates (72 percent accepted evolution) and people with a high school diploma or less (51 percent accepted evolution) was also fairly pronounced.

The Pew survey sampled 1,983 respondents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

As we reported last year, the issue of evolution — in particular in states where there have been high-profile fights over how it is presented in public school classrooms — has increasingly placed members of the scientific community at odds with politicians and local school boards.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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