A belief in astrology is surprisingly widespread in modern America. The National Science Foundation recently released a report reviewing scientific knowledge and attitudes. As noted by Chris Mooney at Mother Jones, perhaps NSF’s most striking finding was an increase in the belief in astrology from 32 percent in 2006 and 35 percent in 2010 to 45 percent in 2012.

At the Demography of Diversity Project at Northwestern University, we took the same astrology data from the General Social Survey that NSF used and broke it down further by political party and liberal-conservative orientation. The results can be found in a brief report that I put up at the Social Science Research Network: “Who Believes That Astrology is Scientific?”

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Which political groups are more likely to believe that astrology is “very scientific” or “sort of scientific,” as opposed to those who believe that it is “not scientific at all”?

1. Conservative Democrats

In the 2012 General Social Survey, 56.9 percent of conservative Democrats believe that astrology is very or sort of scientific, while only 43.1 percent believe that it is not scientific at all. This support for astrology is the highest among 15 overlapping political groups.

2. Moderate Democrats

The political group that is second most likely to believe in astrology is moderate Democrats. A majority of them — 52.0 percent — think that astrology is at least sort of scientific.

3. Democrats (overall)

Although liberal Democrats are insignificantly less likely than average to believe in astrology (43.5 percent), the difference is not enough to offset the beliefs of moderate and conservative Democrats. Thus, Democrats overall are in the third position, with nearly half (49.1 percent) believing in astrology.

4. Moderate Independents

Fully 48.9 percent of moderate Independents believe in astrology.

5. Liberal Independents

6. Moderates (overall)

7. Independents (overall)

About 48 percent of the independents (48.1 percent), moderates (48.2 percent), and liberal independents (48.3 percent) believe that astrology is at least sort of scientific.

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If we combine four GSS surveys on astrology from 2006 through 2012, liberal independents drop off the list, but the other six groups take the top six slots in a somewhat different order.

To find out which political groups are least likely to believe in astrology, see “Who Believes That Astrology is Scientific?” To explore the political dynamics on science issues other than astrology (using three decades of data from 1972 through 2002), see the paper, “Who Fears Science?”

Coming Later This Week: The 6 political groups least likely to believe that astrology is scientific

UPDATE (Tuesday, 11:00pm):  In the above post I analyzed the 2012 General Social Survey from the 1972-2012 cumulative data file.  Those are the data usually used for cross-sectional analyses because the response rates are so high (usually about 70%).  But the GSS also re-interviews earlier panels, which suffer from some attrition and thus some loss of representativeness.  Because the NSF study used the 2012 re-interviews of the 2010 and 2008 samples, I added these cases to my analysis and redid the numbers.  This time, I also included non-responses in the results.

In the chart below are the 7 political groups fanked as least likely to say that astrology is “not at all scientific” using both the new 2012 sample I used before  and the 2012 resampling of the 2008 and 2010 samples, which I hadn’t used before.  The first three spots below are unchanged and all three have fewer than half of respondents finding astrology unscientific.  The next four slots, which were almost tied in the above analysis, have rearranged their order in the table below.

Political   Group Very scientific Sort of scientific Not at all scientific Don’t know No answer wtd N
Conserv. Democrat 16.3% 43.1% 36.6% 3.2% 0.8% 149
Moderate Democrat 12.9% 39.1% 44.4% 3.3% 0.3% 258
Democrat 12.9% 35.7% 48.6% 2.6% 0.2% 778
Moderate 11.0% 34.0% 51.1% 3.6% 0.3% 778
Liberal Indep. 8.3% 38.5% 52.5% 0.5% 0.2% 182
Independent 9.9% 33.0% 52.6% 4.1% 0.6% 853
Moderate Indep. 11.2% 31.9% 53.5% 3.2% 0.3% 390

The same seven groups remain on the list. [For the answer “not at all scientific," the margin of error for the party and political orientation groups is 3.3-4.0%, while the median margin of error for the combination subgroups is 6.6%.]

UPDATE (Tuesday, 9:45 pm ET): I have done two things that might interest readers.

First, I updated my SSRN report “Who Believes That Astrology is Scientific?” to include more 2012 data (from 2012 re-interviews of the 2008 and 2010 GSS panels), which dovetails my results even more closely with the NSF study.

Second, I did a little study to explore Professor Landers’ concerns that people might have confused astrology with astronomy, a concern echoed in some comments here.  If you are curious about whether Landers is correct, please look at the evidence I present.

 UPDATE (Monday, 1:45 pm ET): Several commenters think that people may have confused astrology with astronomy.  Without looking as the GSS 1972-2012 Codebook (which can be downloaded at NORC) , one would find this speculation  highly plausible (actually, it’s quite clever). While certainly some may have confused the two, the context of the questions asked would have greatly reduced this possibility.

  • Now, for a new subject. Do you ever read a horoscope or your personal astrology report?
  • Would you say that astrology is very scientific, sort of scientific, or not at all scientific?

So astrology was tied to horoscopes and astrology was tied to a personal report that doesn’t sound much like a traditional science.  After all, just what would a personal astronomy report consist of?