Rasmussen has published its latest poll on public support for the space program, and has found some encouraging news and some not-so-encouraging news for space advocates. Some of the results may be skewed by the nature of the questions, however.
Rasmussen has found that 52 percent of those asked agree that the space shuttle program, now scheduled to conclude next July, has been worth the cost. 28 percent do not agree that the space shuttle program has been worth the cost, while 20 percent are not sure.
When it comes to whether the NASA budget should be cut back or increased, the results are even at 41 percent cut back and 41 percent increased, with 17 percent unsure.
Other results include:
“Forty percent (40%) of Americans feel the space program should be funded by the government, up slightly from April. Thirty-two percent (32%) say funding for the program should come from the private sector. Twenty-eight percent (28%) are undecided.
“Interestingly, most entrepreneurs and private company employees feel the space program should be government-funded, while the plurality of government workers feel the private sector should handle the expense.
“An overwhelming 72% say it’s at least somewhat important for the United States to have a manned space program, including 35% who say it’s Very Important. Only 21% say it’s not very or not at all important for the country to send humans into space.
“Once NASA ends its manned space shuttles, it will rely on unmanned missions for research purposes. Seventy-six percent (76%) say it’s important for the country to have a space program that relies on unmanned research spaceships, including 29% who say it’s Very Important. Sixteen percent (16%) don’t feel these types of space missions are important.
“Eighty percent (80%) have a favorable opinion of NASA, while just 14% have an unfavorable impression of the country’s space program. These findings include 32% who have a Very Favorable opinion and only four percent (4%) who have a Very Unfavorable view. In January, just 64% had a favorable opinion of NASA, and 20% did not.”
As usual, some of the results may have more to do with the nature of the question than people’s actual informed opinion. For instance, the question of whether NASA’s budget should be increased or decreased does not include information about how much NASA’s budget currently is. Other polling data suggest that many Americans have an exaggerated view of how much NASA spends per year, sometimes by orders of magnitude. The answers might change if the fact that NASA’s new budget is about $19 billion, and not $100 billion, was included in the question.
Also, the either/or nature of the “government vs. private” question gives a misleading answer. There is no choice that suggests that government and the private sector both have a role in conducting space exploration.
One interesting result is that people in the private sector tend to believe that government should pay for space exploration while people in government believe that the private sector should pay. That suggests that people in private business may know a thing or two about what private business can and cannot do. On the other hand, perhaps people in government may have an inflated view of the current capabilities of the commercial sector.
As Rasmussen notes, the current results are slightly more favorable toward the space program than previous polling. That would tend to suggest the public debate over President Obama’s new space policy may be having an effect on public opinion.
Source: 52% Say Space Shuttle Program Has Been Worth The Cost, Rasmussen Reports, October 5th, 2010