One year after Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, concern about misinformation is high

New Ipsos poll, provided exclusively to the BBC, finds that significant portions of the American public believe conspiracy theories around Covid, the election, and QAnon

The author(s)

  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Neil Lloyd Senior Research Analyst, Public Affairs
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Washington, DC, January 5, 2022 –  As the spread of false information tops the list of the public’s concerns at the moment, a new Ipsos poll finds that nearly half of Americans get a failing grade (defined as answering 5 or fewer questions correctly, out of 10) when asked to determine if a set of statements related to election, Covid-19, and QAnon conspiracies are true or false. The poll also highlights extremely prominent partisan divides, not only on belief in this set of statements, but on broader beliefs around the 2020 presidential election result, the efficacy of masks and vaccines in the fight against Covid, and critical race theory. For example, while seven in ten say they accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, that number falls to fewer than half of Republicans, compared to more than nine in ten Democrats. .

Detailed Findings

1. A vast majority of Americans are concerned about the spread of false information generally. However, concerns specifically related to Covid misinformation are closely linked to partisanship.

  • More than eight in ten Americans (84%) say they are very or somewhat concerned about the spread of false information, and that cuts across party lines (83% of Republicans, 89% of Democrats, and 85% of independents).
  • In addition, “the spread of false information” is a top-tier concern right now (selected by 32% as the most worrying issue), alongside Covid (30%), political extremism/polarization (29%), and crime or gun violence (29%).
  • There is also a high level, and bipartisan, concern around false information about coronavirus and vaccines (82%).
  • Yet when we drill down into some of the perceived drivers of false information on the issue, there is less agreement. For example, 49% are concerned about the U.S. government spreading false information about Covid-19, including 70% of Republicans and 52% of independents, but just 26% of Democrats. Two-thirds are concerned about wellness influencers spreading false information about the virus, but Democrats show a greater level of concern, by 10 percentage points.

2. In spite of these concerns around false information, this poll shows that significant portions of the American public continue to believe conspiracy theories around Covid, the election, and QAnon.

  • Overall, for nine of these ten statements about widespread conspiracy theories, a majority (at least 53% or more) can identify the correct answers. There is one statement where only a plurality (47%) can identify the correct answer.
  • In some instances, however, around one in five buy into the falsehood. For example, though 58% correctly answer “true” to “Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election,” 22% say this statement is false and another 19% don’t know. The disbelief is driven by Republicans – nearly half (47%) say it is false that Biden won the election legitimately and another 27% are unsure.
  • In many instances, there is a significant number of people who say they don’t know if the conspiracy is true or false (on most statements, ranging from about one-fifth of the population to one-third), often exceeding the population that believes the theory. This suggests a certain degree of confusion about a common reality.
  • When we assign grades based on how Americans answer this set of statements, just over one in three correctly answer nine or 10 (out of 10). More, however, get a failing grade – 48% get five or fewer correct.
  • Most views are relatively stable, compared to around a year ago, when we last asked in December 2020 and January 2021. However, fewer now believe it is true that “a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media.” Just 7% now believe this to be true, versus 18% at the beginning of the year.

 

3. On many of these questions, there are deep partisan divides on what is fact versus fiction. This is particularly true when it comes to views around the outcome of last year’s election.

  • In addition to the example above, where there is a 60-percentage point difference between Democrats and Republicans on correctly answering that Biden legitimately won the election, Democrats are also significantly more likely to (correctly) say there is no evidence of widespread voter or election fraud that affected the outcome of last year’s election. Eighty-three percent of Democrats say this statement is true, compared to 21% of Republicans (and 57% of independents).
  • Overall, around a quarter (26%) say it is true that “Joe Biden is a ‘puppet president’ and is being controlled by a group of ‘Deep State’ elites.” However, a majority of Republicans – 56% - believe this to be the case, compared to just 1% of Democrats.
  • This difference in opinion goes beyond the “knowledge test” on this set of statements. There is little agreement on attitudes around Covid and other key issues facing the country right now.
  • For example, 88% of Democrats and 70% of independents say masks are an effective tool to prevent the spread of Covid-19, compared to 48% of Republicans. On the other hand, 65% of Republicans agree that public schools are teaching children that all white people are racist, by teaching critical race theory. A minority of Democrats (7%) and independents (28%) agree.

 

About the Study

This Ipsos poll was conducted December 3rd to December 7th, 2021 by Ipsos using our KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 1,111 general population adults age 18 or older. The sample includes 324 Republicans, 356 Democrats, and 332 independents.

The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for Republicans. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for Democrats. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for Independents. The margin of sampling error takes into account the design effect, which was 1.53. The margin of sampling error is higher and varies for results based on sub-samples. In our reporting of the findings, percentage points are rounded off to the nearest whole number. As a result, percentages in a given table column may total slightly higher or lower than 100%. In questions that permit multiple responses, columns may total substantially more than 100%, depending on the number of different responses offered by each respondent.

The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, the largest and most well-established online probability-based panel that is representative of the adult US population. Our recruitment process employs a scientifically developed addressed-based sampling methodology using the latest Delivery Sequence File of the USPS – a database with full coverage of all delivery points in the US. Households invited to join the panel are randomly selected from all available households in the U.S. Persons in the sampled households are invited to join and participate in the panel. Those selected who do not already have internet access are provided a tablet and internet connection at no cost to the panel member. Those who join the panel and who are selected to participate in a survey are sent a unique password-protected log-in used to complete surveys online. As a result of our recruitment and sampling methodologies, samples from KnowledgePanel cover all households regardless of their phone or internet status and findings can be reported with a margin of sampling error and projected to the general population.

The study was conducted in both English and Spanish. The data were weighted to adjust for gender by age, race/ethnicity, education, Census region, metropolitan status, household income, race/ethnicity by gender, race/ethnicity by age, race/ethnicity by education and race/ethnicity by region. The demographic benchmarks came from the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) from the US Census Bureau with metropolitan status from the 2021 March Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS).

  • Gender (Male, Female) by Age (18–29, 30–44, 45–59, and 60+)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White Non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander Non-Hispanic, Other or 2+ Races Non-Hispanic, Hispanic)
  • Education (High School graduate or less, Some College, Bachelor and beyond)
  • Census Region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West)
  • Metropolitan status (Metro, non-Metro)
  • Household Income (Under $25,000, $25,000-$49,999, $50,000-$74,999, $75,000-$99,999, $100,000-$149,999, $150,000+)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White/Other non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Hispanic) by gender (Male, Female)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White/Other non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Hispanic) by age (18-44, 45+)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White/Other non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Hispanic) by education (Less than college grad, Bachelor and beyond)

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Mallory Newall
Director, US
Public Affairs
+1 202 420-2014
[email protected]

Kate Silverstein
Media Relations, US
Public Affairs
+1 718 755-8829
[email protected]

About Ipsos

Ipsos is the world’s third largest market research company, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people.

Our passionately curious research professionals, analysts and scientists have built unique multi-specialist capabilities that provide true understanding and powerful insights into the actions, opinions and motivations of citizens, consumers, patients, customers or employees. We serve more than 5,000 clients across the world with 75 business solutions.

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The author(s)

  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Neil Lloyd Senior Research Analyst, Public Affairs

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