Misinformation around U.S. Capitol unrest, election spreading among Americans

Latest Ipsos poll shows Capitol rioters viewed as “criminals,” “right-wing terrorists,” but views divided sharply along partisan lines

The author(s)
  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
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Washington, DC, January 19, 2021 — In the wake of the January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol, Ipsos took another look at beliefs toward misinformation and election-related conspiracy theories. There is over a 60-point gap between Democrats and Republicans regarding whether Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election, a sign of how politically divided this country is, and what facts we are willing to accept. Following the attack last week, most Americans see the people who entered the Capitol as criminals or right-wing domestic terrorists and, as a result, support the suspension of the president’s social media accounts.

Detailed Findings

Most of the American public views the people who entered the Capitol as criminals or right-wing domestic terrorists. A plurality support social media outlets removing President Trump and QAnon accounts as a result of the event.

  • Nearly one in three (31%) say they are criminals, and 26% say they are right-wing terrorists.
  • Just four percent believe they are patriots who were fighting to preserve our freedoms.
  • News consumption plays a role in views of the events, as does partisanship.
  • For example, one in four who get their news from FOX or conservative online outlets believe they were left-wing terrorists or Antifa, compared to just 7% of CNN or MSNBC viewers. Forty-five percent of Democrats see these people as right-wing domestic terrorists, while 10% of Republicans feel the same.

Storming the Capitol

  • Forty percent of Americans believe Trump’s social media accounts should have been suspended earlier, and another 12% say it is an appropriate response to the unrest. One in three (34%) agree accounts affiliated with the QAnon conspiracy theory should have been suspended earlier.

Some conspiracy theories around the Capitol unrest are already taking hold among the American public.

  • Overall, one in five Americans believe this statement to be true: “The people who broke into the U.S. Capitol were undercover members of Antifa.”
  • That number is significantly higher among those who use FOX News or conservative outlets as their main news source (46%) or those who report using conservative social networks like Parler, Telegram, etc., in the past month (44%).

When it comes to views toward other conspiracy theories, beliefs have not changed significantly since last month. Deep partisan cleavages remain, though, and most Americans score poorly on a misinformation ‘knowledge test.’

  • Compared to last month, there has been no change in beliefs around one of the core tenets of QAnon, that “a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media.” Currently, around half of Americans (49%) correctly identify this as false, while 18% believe it to be true, and 34% are unsure.
  • However, among those that report using conservative social networks in the past month (16% of survey respondents), they are evenly split on whether this conspiracy theory is true (37%) or false (34%).
  • Sixty percent of Americans say it is true that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election, but there is a nearly 70-point gap between Democrats and Republicans on this question (93% of Democrats say true vs. 27% of Republicans).
  • Four in ten (41%) received a failing grade on this ‘knowledge test,’ meaning they correctly answered just three or fewer statements out of nine.

Concerns about political violence over the next four years and misinformation on social media remain high and, in some cases, have slightly increased from last month. At the same time, more Americans than before want to see a smooth transition of power in the executive branch.

  • Seventy-seven percent are concerned about political violence over the next four years. While that number is relatively steady from December (73%), more now say they are very concerned (44%, up from 36%).
  • Concerns about misinformation on social media have slightly increased; three-quarters (76%) are concerned the information they receive on social media is not accurate, compared to 69% last month.
  • Compared to last month, slightly more Americans believe there should be a smooth transition of power to the Biden administration (76%, up from 70% last month).
  • Of note, that movement has come entirely from Republicans; currently, more than two-thirds (68%) are in favor of a smooth transition, up from 53% last month.

About the Study

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between January 14-15, 2021. For this survey, a sample of 1,114 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English with oversamples of Black and Hispanic Americans. This poll is trended against a NPR/Ipsos poll conducted between December 21-22, 2020, with a sample of 1,115 U.S. adults.

The sample for this study was randomly drawn from Ipsos’ online panel (see link below for more info on “Access Panels and Recruitment”), partner online panel sources, and “river” sampling (see link below for more info on the Ipsos “Ampario Overview” sample method) and does not rely on a population frame in the traditional sense. Ipsos uses fixed sample targets, unique to each study, in drawing a sample. After a sample has been obtained from the Ipsos panel, Ipsos calibrates respondent characteristics to be representative of the U.S. Population using standard procedures such as raking-ratio adjustments. The source of these population targets is U.S. Census 2018 American Community Survey data. The sample drawn for this study reflects fixed sample targets on demographics. Posthoc weights were made to the population characteristics on gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, and education.

Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online non-probability polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error and measurement error. Where figures do not sum to 100, this is due to the effects of rounding. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all respondents. Ipsos calculates a design effect (DEFF) for each study based on the variation of the weights, following the formula of Kish (1965). This study had a credibility interval adjusted for design effect of the following (n=1,114, DEFF=1.5, adjusted Confidence Interval=+/-4.8 percentage points).

The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 5.6 percentage points for Republicans, plus or minus 5.0 percentage points for Democrats, and plus or minus 9.7 percentage points for Independents.

The poll fielded from December 21-22, 2020, has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Chris Jackson
Director, U.S., Public Affairs
+1 202 420 2025
[email protected]

Mallory Newall
Director, U.S., Public Affairs
+1 202 420 2014
[email protected]

Kate Silverstein
Media Relations Specialist, U.S., Public Affairs
+1 718 755-8829
[email protected]

About Ipsos

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The author(s)
  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs