New VA report – Swedes’ confidence in research is becoming increasingly polarised



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The Swedish public continues to have a high level of confidence in universities and researchers. At the same time, there are clear signs of an ongoing polarisation, with a widening divide in confidence between different population groups. These are the findings presented in a new report by the Swedish non-profit organisation VA (Public & Science).

Confidence in Sweden’s universities and researchers has increased slightly according to the results of the latest annual SOM (Society, Opinion, Mass Media) survey, which was conducted in autumn 2019. In the survey, 60 percent of Swedes say that they have a fairly or very high confidence in how Sweden’s universities carry out their work. The proportion of Swedes with fairly or very high confidence in researchers’ work is 66 percent.

Polarised confidence in research amongst supporters of different political parties

However, the results conceal an ongoing polarisation between different groups. The differences are mainly seen between those with different levels of education and supporters of different political parties. Highly educated people generally have greater confidence in research and researchers, and are more willing to invest money in research.

In terms of supporters of political parties, three groups can be distinguished, where those who support the Green Party, the Liberals, the Centre Party and the Left Party have the highest confidence; followed by supporters of the Social Democrats, the Moderate Party, and Christian Democrats; while the third group consists of supporters of the Sweden Democrats, who, regardless of educational level, clearly have the lowest confidence in research and researchers.

The ideological and political polarisation of confidence in research and researchers has been ongoing for a long time. We also see that a growing number of people are expressing ”intense opinions”, i.e. they state very high or very low confidence,” said Anna Maria Jönsson, Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Södertörn University, and author of the report.

Continuing low confidence in the humanities

The humanities are, as in previous years, the research subject that Swedes say they have the least confidence in. A key explanation for this low confidence is that just over a third of Swedes select the “no opinion” option when answering the question on their level of confidence in humanities research. Political polarisation is also particularly evident when it comes to the public’s views on humanistic research.

Why do people lack an opinion about the humanities? We are now conducting a specific study to find out the reasons for this lack of confidence and perceptions of humanities research,” said Martin Bergman, a researcher at VA (Public & Science).

The report is based on the results of the 2019 SOM (Society, Opinion, Mass Media) opinion survey and is written by Anna Maria Jönsson, Professor in Media & Communication Studies at Södertörn University. The survey was sent during autumn 2019 to a nationally representative sample of 3,500 people aged 16-85 years living in Sweden. The report is part of the Science in Society project, a collaboration between VA and the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg, which has been following the Swedish public’s views on science and research since 2002. The study is conducted with funding from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation), the University of Gothenburg, Lund University and Uppsala University.

For further information, please contact Martin Bergman at VA (Public & Science).

The full report is available in Swedish only.

Public & Science Sweden

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