Government statistics drive everything from policy on public health and the money supply to electoral representation and election outcomes. But do Americans trust them? In a recent poll, YouGov asked 1,000 Americans to rate the trustworthiness of 12 statistics produced by the U.S. government and found that for each statistic, less than half of Americans say they find it to be trustworthy. While Democrats are more likely to trust than not trust most of the statistics asked about, each of the statistics is distrusted by more Republicans than the share who trust it.
None of the 12 government statistics we polled about were rated as trustworthy by a majority of Americans. The data the most Americans find trustworthy is on ocean temperatures, which are released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); the same poll found that NOAA is among the most highly trusted government agencies among the 18 we asked about. The next most trusted is COVID-19 vaccination counts, which are released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The third most trusted is population counts, released by the U.S. Census Bureau, which is rated among the most trusted government agencies polled about.
Of the statistics we asked about, among the ones that Americans are least likely to trust are the government’s count of the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., the number of sexual assaults reported, and the number of people who have died from COVID-19.
Republicans are more likely to distrust than to trust each of the statistics asked about. The statistic most likely to be trusted by Republicans is ocean temperatures, followed by civilian casualties by the U.S. military abroad (a statistic that was among the least likely to be trusted by Democrats). Unlike Republicans, Democrats are more likely to trust than to distrust each of the statistics polled. The highest net trust ratings among Democrats are for vote counts, COVID-19 vaccination counts, and ocean temperatures. The least trusted include the number of sexual assaults reported and the number of unauthorized immigrants.
Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to trust each of the 12 statistics we polled about. The statistic with the largest partisan trust gap is national vote counts: Republicans’ net trust of vote counts is -51, while Democrats’ is +60. The smallest gap in net trust is on civilian casualties by the U.S. military abroad: Republicans’ net trust of civilian casualty counts is -18, while Democrats’ is +19.
We asked respondents who rated each statistic as untrustworthy whether they think the statistic is being overestimated or underestimated. More than half of Americans who say each of the following statistics are untrustworthy say it is being underestimated:
- Number of sexual assaults reported
- Ocean temperatures
- Number of violent crimes reported
- The inflation rate
- Civilian casualties by the U.S. military abroad
- The unemployment rate
- Population counts
A majority of Americans who say each of the following statistics is untrustworthy say the statistic is being overestimated:
- COVID-19 death counts
- COVID-19 case counts
- COVID-19 vaccination counts
- Number of illegal immigrants in the U.S.
- Number of people who vote in national elections
Do members of each party agree on whether certain statistics are being overcounted or undercounted? While our sample size is limited because only a small share of Democrats found each statistic untrustworthy, a few significant differences do emerge for members of each party who found certain statistics untrustworthy:
- Over three-fourths of Republicans who don’t trust COVID-19 cases and deaths say they are being overcounted, while over three-fourths of Democrats who don’t trust them say they’re being undercounted.
- Among Americans who don’t trust population counts, Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say that they are overestimated.
- Among Americans who don’t trust civilian casualties from the U.S. military abroad, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say that the casualty counts are being undercounted rather than overcounted.
- While almost all Republicans who distrust statistics on unauthorized immigrants say that the count is an underestimate, only about half of Democrats say the same.
- Carl Bialik contributed to this article
Methodology: This U.S. News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online from April 4 - 7, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as news interest and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 4% for the entire sample.