April 10, 2002

Poll: Public Uneasy With Genetic Research

Religion cited as influence on Americans’ views

As the Senate prepares to debate legislation to ban human cloning and President Bush addresses the issue at the White House this afternoon, a new survey reveals that by more than four to one (77 percent to 17 percent), the public rejects scientific experimentation on the cloning of human beings.

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But many Americans would draw a distinction between experimentation on human cloning and stem cell research, according to the survey released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The survey finds that Americans are united in opposition to human cloning but closely divided on the issue of stem cell research — half of those who have been paying at least some attention to the issue favor government funding for stem cell research while a substantial minority (35 percent) are opposed.

The survey further reveals that Americans who have heard at least a little about the issue are narrowly split on core questions related to stem cell research. Forty-seven percent believe it is more important to conduct such research to reap the benefits of new medical cures, while 39 percent believe it is more important to protect human embryos.

“This finding in particular illustrates the passionate and close debate currently underway about which of these values should be predominant,” said Melissa Rogers, executive director of the Pew Forum.

The survey also reveals that, overall, fifty-five percent of Americans oppose cloning research because they see it as morally wrong, compared with just 15 percent who object because of safety concerns.

“For the majority of Americans, this isn’t merely a matter of working the kinks out of the scientific method,” Rogers said. “It’s a matter of morality.”

Religious commitment is the most important factor influencing the attitudes of those who oppose government-funded stem cell research, with 37 percent of those who object citing religious beliefs as the biggest influence on their view.

“This highlights the fact that religious convictions can sometimes be the primary force shaping policy positions,” Rogers said.

The nationwide telephone survey of 2,002 adults was conducted Feb. 25-March 10 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life serves as a both a town hall and a clearinghouse of information, providing independent research, new polling information, balanced analysis, and referrals to experts in the field. The Pew Forum is nonpartisan and does not take policy positions. It is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts through a grant to Georgetown University.

For a copy of the survey results, or more information about the poll or the Pew Forum, please contact Robert Mills at 202.419.4564.