FiveThirtyEight

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

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 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, 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).


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