A recent YouGov poll finds that skepticism regarding the existence of aliens has declined since the 1990s, when — according to a 1996 poll by Newsweek — only 20% of Americans believed that Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) were more likely to be proof of alien life than to have a natural scientific explanation (32%). Today, 34% of Americans believe UFOs are likely alien ships or life forms, while only 32% say they're likely to have a scientific explanation.
Another poll from 1996, conducted by Pew Research Center, found that only 4% of Americans expected human-alien contact within the next 50 years. Our latest poll finds that number has risen to 13%. Pew's poll found that 69% of people believed that alien contact was probably or definitely not going to happen in the next half-century; now, only 39% think it won't happen.
What do Americans think aliens encountering Earth would be like? Few (17%) expect them to resemble the type of aliens commonly depicted in science fiction, with green skin and large heads and eyes. Two-thirds of people (66%) think they'll be more technologically advanced than humans; only 16% think they'll be less advanced. Somewhat more anticipate they will "come in peace" (44%) than be hostile to humans (35%).
While 24% of Americans say they've personally seen a UFO, reactions differ in terms of what the most likely explanation is. More (43%) believe the UFO they saw was the result of a natural phenomenon that they couldn't identify than think it was aliens (34%); 23% are unsure what it was.
How does Americans' belief in aliens stack up with their belief in other oft-sighted mythical beings? To find out, we asked about four other creatures: Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Chupacabra. While 24% are fully confident in the existence of aliens, less than one in 10 are sure that each of the other four beings exists.
— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article
This poll was conducted on September 9 - 12, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: Adobe Stock (vchalup)