Washington, DC, December 30, 2020 – According to a recent NPR/Ipsos poll, a strong majority of Americans are concerned about the spread of false information and specifically that information they receive on social media is not accurate. However, there are also signs that recent misinformation, including false claims related to COVID-19 and QAnon, are gaining a foothold among some Americans.
The American public is deeply concerned about the spread of false information and are particularly concerned about COVID-19-related misinformation.
- More than eight in ten (83%) say they are concerned about the spread of false information, and a majority (54%) report being very concerned.
- Eighty percent are specifically concerned about the spread of false information about the coronavirus and vaccines.
- More than two-thirds are concerned both that the information they receive on social media is not accurate (69%), and also about foreign interference in social media (67%).
Despite these concerns, there are signs that misinformation, most prominently around COVID-19, QAnon, and recent Black Lives Matter protests, is becoming more mainstream.
- In a “knowledge test,” where respondents were given 10 true or false statements about historical events, most Americans correctly answered questions about past events (e.g., the moon landing, Barack Obama’s birthplace, and 9/11), yet show more ambiguity on recent events.
- Specifically, a plurality of Americans (40%) believe it is true that COVID-19 was created in a lab in China – more answered true than false. There is no indication this is true.
- Moreover, fewer than half (47%) are able to correctly identify that this statement is false: “A group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media.” Thirty-seven percent are unsure whether this theory backed by QAnon is true or false, and 17% believe it to be true.
- Nearly half (47%) believe the majority of protests this summer were violent, while just 38% correctly indicated that this is a false statement.
- Both partisanship and education play a role in belief of these events. Both Democrats and college-educated Americans answered more statements correctly than Republicans, Independents, or those without a college degree.
More than one in three Americans believe in the existence of a so-called “deep state;” however, most accept the results of the election and want to see a peaceful transition.
- Thirty-nine percent of Americans agree there is a deep state working to undermine President Trump – another tenet of QAnon. This belief is driven primarily by Republicans and FOX News viewers (a majority of both groups agree with this), though nearly half of white men and rural residents (49% each) agree as well.
- However, many more accept the results of the 2020 presidential election (69%) and want to see a peaceful transition to the Biden administration in January (70%).
- A similar number to those who would like to see a peaceful transition are also worried about political violence over the next four years (73%).
Despite the ambiguity around the origins of COVID-19, there are indications that most Americans are taking the virus seriously. For example, a majority agree there should be a law in their state requiring masks in public at all times.
- Three-quarters (74%) of Americans agree that masks are an effective tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Though majorities of both Democrats and Republicans agree with this statement, Democrats are significantly more likely to do so (90% agree vs. 61% of Republicans).
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) feel there should be a law in their state requiring mask use in public, at all times. The partisan gap is even wider on a mask mandate, though: 85% of Democrats are in favor, compared to 45% of Republicans.
- A majority (59%) disagree that COVID-19 is no more of a serious threat than the flu. Almost all demographic groups (gender, age, educational attainment, religion, etc.) disagree with this statement. Only Republicans and FOX News viewers are evenly split on whether or not COVID-19 is more serious than the flu.
Most Americans are unwilling to point fingers at a specific group of people for being more susceptible to believing conspiracy theories. Majorities say “all equally” when asked about different ages, racial/ethnic groups, partisans, or people of different education levels.
- However, there are a few exceptions. Compared with the general public, younger people (18-34) say in larger numbers that older people are more likely to believe conspiracy theories, while more older people (age 55+) say the same about younger people.
- A plurality of Democrats (44%) say Republicans are more likely to believe conspiracy theories; in comparison, most Republicans (55%) say “all equally.”
- People with college degrees are more likely to say that those who did not go to college are more susceptible to believing conspiracy theories (41% say this, compared to 19% of those without degrees and 26% overall).
Read the story from NPR here.
About the Study
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between December 21-22, 2020, on behalf of NPR. For this survey, a sample of 1,115 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English with oversamples of Black and Hispanic Americans. One question in this poll is trended against NPR/Ipsos polls conducted between August 20-21, 2020, July 30-31, 2020, and June 19-20, 2018, with a sample of 1,186, 1,115 and 1,071 U.S. adults, respectively.
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=1,115, 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 4.9 percentage points for Democrats, and plus or minus 10.3 percentage points for Independents.
The poll fielded from August 20-21, 2020, has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, the poll fielded from July 30-31, 2020, has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, and the poll fielded from June 19-20, 2018, has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
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