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First their main conclusion:
NASA oversees a diverse portfolio of space-related missions, from sending robotic probes to explore distant planets to launching satellites that study Earth’s atmosphere and oceans.
When asked to rate the importance of nine of these missions, majorities of Americans say a top priority for NASA should be monitoring key parts of the Earth’s climate system (63%) or monitoring asteroids and other objects that could potentially collide with the Earth (62%).
Slightly fewer than half of Americans (47%) believe that conducting basic scientific research to increase knowledge and understanding of space should be a top priority, with 40% saying such research is an important but lower priority.
…Missions for human astronauts to explore Mars and return to the moon are among NASA’s most high-profile programs. The Trump administration has expressed strong support for these initiatives, saying that exploring the solar system should be NASA’s core mission, beginning with a return of astronauts to the moon.
However, compared with other NASA programs, fewer Americans say such space exploration should be a top priority. Just 18% and 13%, respectively, say that sending astronauts to Mars or back to the moon should be a top priority; 37% and 44%, respectively, express the view that these missions are not too important or that NASA shouldn’t undertake these missions. [emphasis mine]
You can download the full report here [pdf].
While it is very possible that the high numbers for NASA climate research and low numbers for a NASA mission to the Moon or Mars reflect a growing skepticism about NASA’s ability to do space work, the poll itself simply isn’t trustworthy. Buried deep in Pew’s press announcement (three webpages down) was a graph that showed that, while the sample population surveyed was distributed reasonably in most ways, the numbers Republicans and Democrats polled was very skewed, 981 Republicans to 1,483 Democrats.
This is absurd. Every recent election has shown that the nation is very evenly split between these two parties. If anything, the results of the 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016 elections would suggest there are more Republicans than Democrats. To favor Democrats by one third is simply dishonest and inaccurate. Even if they claim that they are merely polling Americans, not voters, the split shouldn’t be weighed that much in favor of Democrats.
Moreover, the poll shows how this skew warps the results, as it also admits that 78 percent of the Democrats polled love NASA’s climate research, while only 44 percent of Republicans do. The poll did find that both Democrats and Republicans had no interest in NASA’s deep space exploration plans, but once again, the poll did not ask why. I strongly suspect that NASA’s inability to get SLS launched explains this. No one believes the agency will ever do it.
With climate research the agency has an easier job, and has done better, but even here many Republicans have strong doubts, and would rather give the job to someone else.
It seems to me that the time has come to completely ignore political polling operations like Pew. They really have only one goal, and that is to push the Democratic Party’s political agenda.