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How Americans Feel About Space

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.


Two of us are writing this week’s Pollapalooza, but I — Kaleigh Rogers — am taking this top bit since we’re focusing on the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope and space exploration is in my blood. During his time as a quality-control inspector at NASA, my grandfather worked on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, helping to put the first man on the moon and earning himself an Exceptional Bravery Medal. So when there are new discoveries from the great beyond, I tend to get a little emotional. 

Cut to me audibly gasping and visibly tearing up as I saw those intergalactic images. The rich data and level of detail moved me and made me think about our infinitesimal place in the universe. It wasn’t just my fellow space nerds who were feeling the feels this week, either. Social media exploded with awe and wonder at the remarkable images (and more than a few memes). And while I’m not convinced the public’s enthusiasm for these deep-space delights indicates much about President Biden’s approval rating (unlike some publications), I was curious to find out what Americans think about NASA and space exploration in general.

It turns out, this is one of the few areas where Americans largely agree. In a July 2021 poll from YouGov/The Economist, a majority of Americans said the U.S. should send astronauts to the moon and Mars. This was true across political parties, with slim majorities for Democrats, Republicans and independents. 

Most Americans are on the same page about funding space exploration, too. About a third of Democrats, Republicans and independents said government funding of space exploration should be kept the same, and about 40 percent of each group said funding should be increased. Find me another issue where roughly the same share of Republicans and Democrats agree that the government is not spending enough money. Grandpa Buck would be happy to know that about three-quarters of Americans across the political spectrum — 77 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of independents — also agreed that the effort made to land the first astronauts on the moon was definitely or probably worth it.

For me, one of the most exciting findings from the Webb telescope actually wasn’t one of the eye-popping images but a graph of atmospheric composition instead. That’s because the graph showed evidence of water vapor on an exoplanet called WASP-96b (cool name). We all know water is a key ingredient for life, so whenever we detect it on another planet, it tends to conjure up mental images of extraterrestrial life (though this particular planet is very hot, doesn’t have a rocky surface and is missing a thin atmosphere, so experts don’t suspect it’s a great candidate to host life). On the question of alien lifeforms, Democrats and Republicans are also aligned. In a Morning Consult/Politico poll from May, registered voters were asked whether they believed life exists outside of Earth. Roughly the same share of Democrats, independents and Republicans (28 percent, 25 percent and 23 percent, respectively) said “yes, definitely.” Another 40 percent of Democrats, 37 percent of independents and 32 percent of Republicans said “yes, probably.”

Americans are also equally conspiratorial on this front. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats, 73 percent of independents and 84 percent of Republicans said the government has definitely or probably hidden evidence of UFOs from the public. I guess finding consensus among American voters isn’t that hard — you just have to look a little further.

Other polling bites

  • Tampons have become increasingly expensive and difficult to procure, and younger voters are noticing. Forty-one percent of likely voters between the ages of 18 and 29 are “very” concerned about national tampon shortages, according to a poll conducted by Data for Progress last month. Only 14 percent of likely voters of all ages, however, were very concerned about such a shortage. Supply chain bottlenecks and higher prices for materials have contributed to a nearly 10 percent rise in national average tampon costs since the start of 2022. The same survey also assessed attitudes toward the “pink tax,” or how products marketed toward women cost more than the same products marketed toward men. A sizable majority of likely voters (76 percent), regardless of age, said they would “strongly” (56 percent) or “somewhat” (20 percent) support legislative efforts to ban such discrimination in product prices.
  • Over half of Americans believe they are their harshest critic, per a June 7-10 YouGov survey studying imposter syndrome. Fifty-three percent said they criticize themselves more than others criticize them, while only 11 percent thought others criticized them more. (Ah, to be one of those chosen few!) Only 10 percent thought they exaggerated their achievements, compared with 38 percent who said they downplayed achievements. Notably, 46 percent of Americans stated they would rather struggle alone than reach out for help. 
  • A whopping 64 percent of Democratic primary voters do not prefer Biden as their party’s presidential candidate in 2024, according to a July 5-7 New York Times/Siena College poll. A third of these naysayers cited his age as their primary concern, while another third referenced his job performance. Meanwhile, 77 percent of all voters said the United States was heading in the wrong direction. Though the exact figure varies slightly, a majority of voters across every party, race, age group, level of educational attainment, region and gender agreed that the nation’s trajectory was negative. That’s a second thing Americans can agree on, beside the stunning space photos: We’re all barreling toward something bad. Unity!
  • Eating just a little bit can’t hurt, right? Well, depends who you ask. Americans are split on whether certain foods, even when consumed in choice amounts, can be beneficial for a healthy diet, per a survey conducted by YouGov last month. While 23 percent said consuming salt in moderation was healthy, 44 percent thought it was detrimental to one’s health. The divide carries over to caffeinated beverages, as 36 percent of Americans said black coffee was good for one’s health, and 14 percent said it was not. Meanwhile, 37 percent said red meat was good for you, but 27 percent had beef with that take.
  • Forty-three percent of American adults under the age of 30 say they know people who use gender-neutral pronouns such as “they,” compared with just 27 percent of all adults, according to a recent YouGov survey. Interpersonal relationships seem to affect Americans’ feelings about using these pronouns: A majority of adults who personally knew someone who used gender-neutral pronouns said they’d feel “very” (43 percent) or “somewhat” (31 percent) comfortable using these pronouns for anyone who asked them to do so. To a certain degree, the converse was also true: Americans who did not personally know anyone who used gender-neutral pronouns were more likely to report feeling very (33 percent) or somewhat (28 percent) uncomfortable if asked to use them.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 38.7 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 56.0 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -17.3 percentage points). At this time last week, 38.6 percent approved and 56.3 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -17.7 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 39.5 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.9 percent, for a net approval rating of -14.4 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,2 Republicans currently lead by 1.8 points (44.8 percent to 43.0 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 1.6 points (44.8 percent to 43.2 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 2.5 points (44.8 percent to 42.3 percent).

Footnotes

  1. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

  2. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Kaleigh Rogers is FiveThirtyEight’s technology and politics reporter.

Zoha Qamar is an ABC News fellow.

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