I’ll admit that Newt Gingrich’s major speech on space exploration is leaving me a little puzzled. To me, I would have thought that space exploration would be a higher priority for Democrats than Republicans. After all, popular stereotypes would suggest that Democrats would tend to be more of the science-and-research types. Also, as the known universe gets larger the easier it may be for some to make the case for multiculturalism, relativism, and even secularism. And I’ll go out on a limb to suggest that there are more Star Trek and science fiction fans who vote Democrat than vote Republican (see here, here, and here for some non-systematic, anecdotal evidence).
Contrary to my expectations, however, it’s the Republican GOP candidates, especially Newt Gingrich, who are talking about beefing up NASA and space exploration these days. President Obama, on the other hand, outlined his administration’s space policy in 2010 which, among other things, downplays the government’s role in future space exploration endeavors.
Survey results from the 2008 ANES survey confirm this general anti-space exploration bias among Democrats in the general public as well. Democrats are about 11% more likely to say that we’re spending “too much” on the space exploration program (40% of Democrats compared to only 29% of Republicans).
So what explains this? My off-the-cuff guesstimate is that space exploration might be associated with national strength in the eyes of many Republicans. The importance of a strong space exploration program may be perceived as similar to the importance of a strong military. Alternatively, fiscally-minded Republicans might be enthusiastic for the possibility of investment in space-related economic resources.
Still, this doesn’t account for the relatively lower levels of enthusiasm for space exploration among Democrats, unless I’m simply wrong about the connection that Democrats might perceive between scientific advancement and space exploration.