Who supports science-related populism? A nationally representative survey on the prevalence and explanatory factors of populist attitudes toward science in Switzerland

Abstract

Science and its epistemology have been challenged by science-related populism—a variant of populism suggesting that a virtuous “ordinary people,” and not allegedly corrupt academic elites, should determine the “production of truth.” Yet almost no studies have assessed the prevalence of science-related populist attitudes among the population and explanatory factors thereof. Based on a nationally representative survey in Switzerland, our study shows that only a minority of the Swiss exhibit science-related populist attitudes. Comparisons with reference studies suggest that these attitudes may be less prevalent in Switzerland than political populist attitudes. Those who hold stronger science-related populist attitudes tend to have no university education, less personal contact with science, lower scientific literacy, and higher interest in science. Additional analyses show that left-leaning citizens are less likely to hold science-related populist attitudes than moderate and right-leaning citizens. Our findings contribute to current debates about a potential fragmentation of science communication audiences and call for further research on the sociodemographic and attitudinal profiles of people with skeptical orientations toward science.

Publication
In PLoS One, 17(8).
Mean SciPop Scores in sample subgroups. Error bars represent standard errors. Analyses based on weighted data.

Mean SciPop Scores in sample subgroups. Error bars represent standard errors. Analyses based on weighted data.

Niels G. Mede
Niels G. Mede
Science Communication Researcher

I am a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Communication and Media Research (IKMZ), University of Zurich, Switzerland. My research focuses on science communication, public opinion, populism and its implications for science and science communication, and survey methodology. From March to May 2022, I was a visiting scholar at the Department of Life Sciences Communication of the University of Wisconsin—Madison.