Obviously, the economy and Iraq are big issues on voters’ minds, but a new poll from Scientists and Engineers for America shows that candidates would also be smart to demonstrate their support for science. In fact, SEA’s Michael Stebbins reports that although the organization expected positive answers to their questions, they were stunned by the overwhelmingly affirmative response:

Eighty-six percent of those polled, for example, say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who is committed to preparing students with the skills they need for the 21st Century through public investments in science and technology education.

Similarly, 84 percent said they would be more likely to support a candidate who is committed to reducing the cost and improving the quality of healthcare through public investments in science and technology. And 52 percent indicated they would be much more likely to support candidates who expressed that science and technology is a priority for them.

Equally impressive was the party breakdown. While there remained a divide between Democrats and Republicans on all of the issues, members of both parties clearly viewed science as important. The largest divide came on climate change, where only 56 percent of Republican respondents said that they would be more likely to vote for someone committed to addressing global climate change through public investments in science and technology. This compared to 84 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independent voters in favor of candidates who would devote public science and technology funds to fight climate change. Add up those majorities in favor of S&T spending to fight global warming and its clear it would be foolish for any campaign not to at least address the issue and support science.

Of course, it’s easy for a candidate to profess support for science and technology but to discourage them in practice – the current administration is infamous for paying lip service to science while interfering with the work of federal scientists. That’s why it’s important for voters to demand specific information from candidates, and not be content with vague statements about making sure that this country stays on the cutting edge of new technologies.

SEA, Science Debate 2008, and several major science organizations have teamed up to develop a list of 14 specific science-related questions for the presidential candidates. (SEA is also asking congressional candidates to answer seven science policy questions, and has already gotten responses from 18 of them.) Here’s one of their questions, which is particularly important given the problems we’ve seen in recent years:

Scientific Integrity. Many government scientists report political interference in their job. Is it acceptable for elected officials to hold back or alter scientific reports if they conflict with their own views, and how will you balance scientific information with politics and personal beliefs in your decision-making?

The candidates should recognize that voters care about science issues – and that many of us have learned the hard way to be skeptical of vague pro-science lip service. Candidates need to be specific about the kinds of policies they’ll pursue on science issues.