Last week, right-wing talk-show host Alex Jones was ordered to pay nearly $50 million in damages to the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting for promoting the false theory that the shooting was faked by groups seeking to promote gun-control legislation. Recent polling by the Economist/YouGov finds that while only one in 10 Americans say they trust Jones, nearly twice as many say the discredited mass-shooting theory he has been accused of promoting is definitely or probably true. The same poll finds five other conspiracies on topics ranging from vaccines to election results are each believed by a similar or larger share of Americans.
In March, YouGov asked Americans to rate 15 media figures in regard to their trustworthiness. Alex Jones was the least likely of the 15 to be trusted: only 11% found him trustworthy, while 31% said they didn’t trust him. Our latest poll, conducted after the conclusion of his recent trial, finds that the share of Americans who view Jones as untrustworthy has risen 11 percentage points to 42%, while the share who view him as trustworthy has declined 2 points to 9%.
Ideology divides how people feel about Jones: People who say they’re liberal are more likely to have an opinion on him than people who say they’re conservative are, and almost all liberals have negative views of him. While most ideological groups are more likely to distrust than to trust Jones, there is one group that is equally likely to find him trustworthy as untrustworthy: people who say they’re very conservative.
Slightly more Americans say they have a favorable view of Jones (17%) than say they trust him (9%). This could contribute to division over whether the amount Jones was ordered to pay in damages – around $50 million – was appropriate: 30% say it’s too much, 27% say it’s too little, and 43% say it’s about right.
Nearly one in five Americans (18%) say the theory that Jones was sued for promoting (that mass shootings have been faked by groups trying to promote stricter gun-control laws) is definitely or probably true. Similar shares of people say they believe two other unfounded theories related to vaccines: that they cause autism (19%) and that COVID-19 vaccines, in particular, are being used to microchip Americans (20%).
Even larger shares of people say they believe in each of three political conspiracies polled about: 41% of Americans believe in a shadow government secretly ruling the world and 31% believe that top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings. The same share – 29% – believe it’s likely true that voting machines were programmed to change votes in the 2020 election.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to endorse each of the theories polled about. Below, we display the share of Republicans who say each of the following are probably or definitely true:
- A shadow government is secretly ruling the world (58%)
- Voting machines were used to change votes in 2020 (57%)
- Top Democrats are involved in child sex-trafficking rings (50%)
- COVID vaccines contain microchips (30%)
- Vaccines cause autism (29%)
- Mass shootings have been faked to promote gun control (28%)
The poll also asked Americans about their relationships with people who believe in conspiracy theories. A little less than half of Americans (44%) say they know someone who believes in conspiracies, including 13% who say they personally believe in conspiracies. About one-third of people who say they have a friend or family member who believes in conspiracies (34%) say the person’s belief in conspiracies has had a negative impact on their relationship with the person, while 56% say it’s had no effect, and 10% say it’s had a positive effect.
— Carl Bialik contributed to this article.
This poll was conducted on August 7 - 9, 2022 among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this Economist/YouGov poll.
Image: Elijah Nouvelage / Getty