Voters who seek expert opinion, not gut feeling, more likely to support same-sex marriage


A new study from independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago found that Americans who depend on experts and evidence hold different political views than people who go on gut feelings — and the findings span the political spectrum. 

"We were interested not in party differences but people's attitudes toward finding info — where they get it and what they look for," Norman Bradburn, senior adviser on the NORC report, said in a phone interview Tuesday. "In some sense, from an analytic point of view, party is a distraction."

Bradburn's team asked 1,007 Americans questions about how they get their information.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The study showed that, regardless of how someone plans to vote in November, their stance on controversial issues like climate change, same-sex marriage and healthcare reform were all influenced by whether or not they take expert opinion and scientific evidence to heart.

For example: 39% of Republicans who said they valued expert opinion also supported same-sex marriage, compared with 9% support from polled Republicans who said they don't seek out expert opinion.

Likewise, on matters of new medical treatments and climate change, Bradburn's team wrote: "Americans are as likely to say that we should wait until doctors agree that a new medical treatment is effective before using it as they are to say that we should take the actions scientists recommend when it comes to climate change."

Almost half of those polled said they trust experts when it comes to new medical treatments (44%) and climate change (45%)

Brian Battaile/AP

The information itself shouldn't be too surprising: According to the study, educated citizens are more likely to be concerned about global warming, support marriage equality and value medical findings backed by the scientific method. But what surprised Bradburn is how much traditional media still reigns — and how much social media doesn't.

"The amount of credibility assigned to social media and blogs ... was much lower than I would've thought from the talk I hear about it," Bradburn said. "Even though people are accessing newspapers online and in hard copy, it's the TV and traditional newspapers still seen as the most credible."

Through all of this, Bradburn centered on one important point: American voters don't fall into their parties' camps nearly as much as we tend to think. "I think media tend to want to make Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, whatever look more homogenous that they are," he said. "But it's clear these groups exist in all political groups."