Trust in medical scientists has grown in the US, but mainly among democrats

May 21, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 21, 2020) - Americans' confidence in medical scientists has grown since the coronavirus outbreak first began to upend life in the United States, as have perceptions that medical doctors hold very high ethical standards, according to a new Pew Research Center report. But there are growing partisan divisions over the risk the coronavirus poses to public health, as well as public confidence in the scientific and medical community and the role such experts are playing in public policy.

The new report - based on two national surveys conducted April 29-May 5 among 10,957 U.S. adults and April 20-26 among 10,139 U.S. adults, both using the Center's American Trends Panel - finds that 43% of U.S. adults say they have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public, up from 35% who said the same before the outbreak. But public confidence has turned upward for Democrats, not Republicans. Among Democrats and those leaning to the Democratic Party, 53% have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the public interest, up from 37% in January 2019. But among Republicans and those who lean Republican, 31% express a great deal of confidence in medical scientists, roughly the same as in 2019 (32%). As a result, there is now a 22 percentage point difference between partisan groups when it comes to trust in medical scientists.

A majority of U.S. adults (59%) believe social distancing measures are helping a lot to slow the spread of the coronavirus, though Democrats are more likely to say this than Republicans (69% vs. 49%). And, when asked about possible reasons for the ongoing presence of new infections in the U.S., partisans diverge, particularly when it comes to the role of testing. Three-quarters of Democrats (75%) consider too little testing a major factor behind new disease cases in the U.S. compared with 37% of Republicans.

Other key findings include: These are among the findings from the new report, which is based on two national surveys conducted on the Center's American Trends Panel. Questions about public confidence in scientists to act in the best interests of the public and questions about ethical standards of medical doctors were drawn from a survey of 10,139 U.S. adults conducted April 20-26, 2020. The margin of error for that full sample is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. The rest of the data in the report is drawn from a survey of 10,957 adults conducted April 29 to May 5, 2020. The margin of error for that full sample is plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.
Alongside this report, the Center has published a new analysis finding that most Americans are optimistic that medical advances to treat or prevent the coronavirus are on the horizon in the next year, and 72% say they would get a vaccine for COVID-19 if it were available. About two-thirds of Americans (64%) say the process of clinical trials is very important. But on the question of allowing more people to access experimental drugs before clinical trials are complete, 59% say the benefits outweigh the risks; 40% say the risks outweigh the benefits. Read the findings:

Also released, a new Pew Research Center report examining Americans' views of the international community's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how Americans think the World Health Organization has dealt with the outbreak:

Read the full report:


Survey topline:

For more information or to arrange an interview email Haley Nolan at

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. The Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. Subscribe to our daily and weekly email newsletters or follow us on our Fact Tank blog.

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