COVID-19 Misinformation is Ubiquitous: 78% of the Public Believes or is Unsure About At Least One False Statement, and Nearly a Third Believe At Least Four of Eight False Statements Tested
Belief in Misinformation Much More Common among Unvaccinated Adults and Republicans
Most People Who Trust Network and Local Television, CNN, MSNBC and NPR on COVID-19 Believe Little or No Misinformation; Larger Shares Who Trust Newsmax, One American News, and Fox News Hold Many Misconceptions
More than three quarters (78%) of U.S. adults either believe or aren’t sure about at least one of eight false statements about the COVID-19 pandemic or COVID-19 vaccines, with unvaccinated adults and Republicans among those most likely to hold misconceptions, a new KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor report shows.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of unvaccinated adults believe or are unsure about at least half of the eight false statements – more than three times the share of vaccinated adults (19%). Nearly half (46%) of Republicans believe or are unsure about at least half the statements, three times the share of Democrats (14%).
The findings highlight a major challenge for efforts to accurately communicate the rapidly evolving science about the pandemic when false and ambiguous information can spread quickly, whether inadvertently or deliberately, through social media, polarized news sources and other outlets.
The new report assesses the public’s awareness of, and belief in, a range of “myths” about the disease and the vaccines to prevent it. The most common misconceptions include:
• Most (60%) adults say they’ve heard that the government is exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths by counting deaths due to other factors and either believe it to be true (38%) or aren’t sure if it is true or false (22%).
• Four in 10 (39%) say they’ve heard pregnant women should not get the COVID-19 vaccine and believe it to be true (17%) or aren’t sure (22%).
• Three in 10 (31%) say they’ve heard that the vaccine has been shown to cause infertility and either believe it (8%) or aren’t sure if it’s true (23%).
Many people believe or are unsure about several of the eight false statements, including about a third (32%) who believe or are unsure about at least half of them.
How Does Trust in News Sources Line Up with Misconceptions?
People’s trusted news sources are correlated with their belief in COVID-19 misinformation. At least a third of those who trust information from CNN, MSNBC, network news, NPR, and local television news do not believe any of the eight false statements, while small shares (between 11% and 16%) believe or are unsure about at least four of the eight false statements.
Larger shares of those who trust COVID-19 information from leading conservative news sources believe misinformation, with nearly 4 in 10 of those who trust Fox News (36%) and One America News (37%), and nearly half (46%) of those who trust Newsmax, saying they believe or are unsure about at least half of the eight false statements.
Whether this is because people are exposed to misinformation from those news sources, or whether the types of people who choose those news sources are the same ones who are pre-disposed to believe certain types of misinformation for other reasons, is beyond the scope of the analysis.
Underscoring the self-selection that now occurs in the news sources people trust, Democrats trust COVID-19 information from network (72%) and local (66%) television, CNN (65%), MSNBC (56%) and NPR (51%). Republicans’ most trusted news sources for COVID-19 information are Fox News (49%), local (34%) and network (25%) news, and Newsmax (22%).
Few adults say they trust social-media sources for information about COVID-19 such as YouTube (13%), Facebook (9%), Twitter (6%), and Instagram (5%). The group that is influenced by information they see on these platforms may be larger than the share that says they trust information they see there, as KFF surveys have previously found the share of adults who get information about COVID-19 vaccines from social media is nearly as large as the share who get information from cable, network, and local TV news.
Designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at KFF, the KFF Vaccine Monitor survey was conducted from October 14-24 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,519 adults. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (168) and cell phone (1,351). The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.
The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor is an ongoing research project tracking the public’s attitudes and experiences with COVID-19 vaccinations. Using a combination of surveys and qualitative research, this project tracks the dynamic nature of public opinion as vaccine development and distribution unfold, including vaccine confidence and acceptance, information needs, trusted messengers and messages, as well as the public’s experiences with vaccination.