Day of Action Deep Prep: Public Polling and Economic Impact

In this deep prep assignment, I'd like you to consider recent public polling on American attitudes toward space exploration.  I'm assigning this because it is important to keep in mind public opinion about issues that are important to us. You may find the results of the polling surprising, even disagreeable. But, to be a better advocate, you must be prepared for skeptics.

In general, polling data is mixed, likely reflecting a relatively low amount of engagement by the public on space issues. In the abstract, space exploration is popular, a positive trend that has been developing over the last few decade. We know this because of the General Social Survey, which has tracked the same question about public funding for space exploration for over 50 years. Note the dramatic changes to the "too much" and "too little" responses in the past 25 years:

    Public attitudes toward Space Exploration General Social Survey data on U.S. population response to the following question: "We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively...are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on the space exploration program?" Source: GSS 2020, NORC, University of Chicago. Data accessed from the GSS Data Explorer website.

    But support for space can be more complex. In the following poll by Pew Research from 2023, note which topics the public lists as NASA's most important issues. How do those correlate to their relative amounts of funding within NASA? (Hint: not well). Now consider how you would work to change people's minds. In other words, how could you make space exploration feel more relevant and important for people who do not already feel that way? Be prepared to deploy that in response to a space-hesitant staffer or member of Congress.

    Public attitudes toward NASA priorities, July 2023
    Public attitudes toward NASA priorities, July 2023 Note: Respondents who did not give an answer are not shown. Source: Survey of U.S. adults conducted May 30–June 4, 2023. “Americans’ Views of Space: U.S. Role, NASA Priorities and Impact of Private Companies," Pew Research

    How do you interpret these data? Is the public familiar enough with space issues that this reflects a deep-seated opinion? Or are people reacting in the moment to aspects of space activities that sound relevant?

    This type of response is consistent with prior polling from various agencies, including Nearly Half the Public Wants the U.S. to Maintain Its Space Dominance from MorningConsult in February of 2021.

    For further discussions of public polling and spaceflight, I recommend this paper by NASA historian Roger Launius: Public Opinion Polls and Perceptions of U.S. Human Spaceflight, 2003.

      Perhaps reading through NASA's 2022 economic impact report summary will help you respond to the above issues. It reminds us that everything we do out there is invested here, on Earth. This information complements the information found on NASA's contract listings (the NASA Procurement Data View), which you should be familiar with from the Space Advocacy 101 course.

      You will prepare a summary of NASA spending in your district and state prior to your meetings, but this report gives you a sense for the wider impact of NASA's activities.

      You can also reference the following chart, which shows the per capita spending per state by NASA, summing expenditures from 2017 - 2023. Darker colors have more money per individual than lighter ones. Every state received some NASA funding.

      NASA spending between 2017 - 2023 by state, per capita 


      • What are the top priority and lowest priority NASA programs in terms of broad public support?
      • Is there a relationship between NASA efforts that poll well and their funding?
      • How strongly do you think people hold these views?
      • What states' economies are the largest beneficiaries of NASA? Is there a relationship between that and the interest displayed by those states' elected officials?

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