A new report by U.S. intelligence agencies investigating the origins of Havana syndrome has determined that it is "very unlikely" that a foreign adversary was responsible for the symptoms reported by U.S. government workers and military personnel abroad. Yet most Americans remain unconvinced, new polling by YouGov finds. To understand how the government's new report and other developments over the past year have affected Americans' opinions on the mysterious syndrome, we recently revisited questions originally included in a poll conducted in January 2022.
Over the past year, Americans have become slightly more aware of Havana syndrome, with 45% now saying they've heard about it, up from 38% last January. Americans — and Democrats in particular — are now somewhat less likely than they were before to see Havana syndrome as the result of a targeted attack by a foreign government, and somewhat more likely to see it as a mass psychogenic illness, or real symptoms resulting from an erroneous belief of an exposure to a health threat. But most people are skeptical or unsure about the intelligence agencies' recent findings, and many want the government to do more to identify Havana syndrome's origins and to support the people who have been affected by it.
Americans' views on the causes of Havana syndrome
When asked directly whether Havana syndrome is the result of a targeted attack by a foreign government, 39% in our latest poll say it definitely or probably is, down 5 percentage points from the 44% who said so last January. While the share of Republicans who think a foreign government was involved has barely budged, the share of Democrats who think a foreign government was involved in directing an attack fell 14 points, to 36% from 50%.
The poll also offered respondents more details on another theory about the origins of Havana syndrome: that it is a mass psychogenic illness, which we described as "a phenomenon in which people develop real symptoms as a result of erroneously believing they have been exposed to a health threat." The share of Americans who say this theory is very or somewhat likely has risen 10 points in the past year, to 39% from 29%. However, just one in 10 say this is a "very likely" explanation, not far from the 6% who said so last year.
Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to consider it likely that Havana syndrome is the result of a mass psychogenic illness: Nearly half (47%) now say it's at least somewhat likely, compared to 37% of Republicans. Last year the two groups were much closer on this question: 27% of Democrats and 30% of Republicans considered the mass psychogenic illness theory to be likely.
There is also an age gap on this question: Younger American adults are far more likely than older Americans to see the mass psychogenic illness theory as credible. Three in five adults under 30 (61%) think it's at least somewhat likely that mass psychogenic illness is the cause of Havana syndrome, compared to just 21% of Americans 65 and older.
Earlier in the poll, respondents were presented with a list of six potential causes of Havana syndrome and asked which they think is the single most likely explanation. When asked this way, we see little change in opinion. Nearly half of Americans — 47% — say they are not sure. Roughly one in five (18%) think it's caused by a sonic or acoustic weapon — similar to the share who chose this option last January (19%). Around one in 10 selected each of the next three most commonly selected causes: a mass psychogenic illness (which was not explicitly defined), pesticides or infectious agents , and directed microwave radiation.
Americans' views on the U.S. government's response to Havana syndrome
Fewer than half of Americans (42%) have heard about the new U.S. intelligence report on the origins of Havana syndrome, including just 6% who say they have heard a lot about it. When told that the report found that Havana syndrome is very unlikely to have been caused by a foreign adversary, 34% say they believe these findings, while 21% say they do not; many — 44% — are unsure. Belief is somewhat polarized by party: 44% of Democrats say they believe the report's findings, compared to 29% of Republicans.
Do Americans think the U.S. government is doing enough to identify the origins of Havana syndrome? Currently, 46% say the government should be doing more to identify its origins, down 11 points from last January (57%).
Views on whether the government should be doing more to support people affected by Havana syndrome has changed less over this period: 49% currently say the government should be doing more, compared to 53% who said so roughly a year ago.
— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article
See the results for the following YouGov polls on Havana syndrome
Methodology for March 2023 poll: This poll was conducted online on March 3 - 6, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.
Methodology for January 2022 poll: This poll was conducted online on January 13 - 18, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2018 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education, as well as 2016 and 2020 election turnout and presidential vote. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2018 American Community Survey. The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 3%.
Image: Adobe Stock (Vero Rose)