Exclusive: 28 percent of Americans surveyed believe the 'truth about harmful effects of vaccines' is being deliberately hidden from the public

The results of a new poll shared exclusively with Yahoo News finds that 28 percent of U.S. adults believe without evidence that the “truth about the harmful effects of vaccines” is being deliberately hidden from the public.

The findings are part of global research conducted by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project, which looks at how different countries perceive a variety of conspiracy theories. According to the research, at least one-fifth to one-third of respondents said they were convinced that the truth about vaccines was being withheld from the public in 20 of 23 countries surveyed.

Anti-vaccine protesters
Anti-vaccine protesters gather in Times Square for a rally against vaccine mandates. (NDZ/Star Max/IPx)

“Taken together, these findings emphasize the extent to which conspiracism has entered the mainstream politics of numerous electorates around the world,” Dr. Joel Rogers de Waal, YouGov’s academic director, said in a statement. “The same research also points to a new and deeper form of partisan antipathy, where people are divided not merely by policy preference or political identity but also by their fundamental perceptions of reality. Overall, 43 percent of adults surveyed in the U.S. said they did not believe that “the harmful effects of vaccines” were being withheld from the public. A closer look at the breakdown of responses within the U.S. shows that attitudes toward vaccines are clearly divided along partisan lines: just 9 percent of people who voted for President Biden in the last election said they believe the public is being misled about the dangers of vaccines, while 47 percent of Donald Trump voters said they believed this to be true.

Anti-vaccine stickers in Chicago
Anti-vaccine stickers in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project surveys were carried out online between Aug. 4 and Sept. 21 among representative samples of between 1,000 and 1,400 adults over age 18 in 23 countries. People in Denmark were the least likely to believe that the public is being deliberately misled about the harmful effects of vaccines, with just 10 percent of Danish respondents saying they think this is true, followed by 13 percent in Great Britain and 15 percent of those polled in Sweden. The country with the highest percentage of citizens expressing vaccine skepticism was Kenya, with 54 percent of respondents saying they believe the statement about the harmful effects of vaccines being hidden from the public. Nigeria came in second place, with 50 percent of respondents saying they think this is true, followed by 49 percent in South Africa and 41 percent in India.

These findings are in line with the overall conclusions of the study, which found that Western countries generally demonstrated less of a tendency to believe conspiracy theories, “with Britain, Japan and the Scandinavian countries being among the least likely to entertain them,” while India and the African countries were home to “markedly large numbers of conspiracists.”

During the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, an “infodemic” of misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories about the origins of the new coronavirus, how to treat it, and whether it was even real began spreading simultaneously around the world. But the recent survey conducted by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project found that “Nearly all countries demonstrated significantly lower willingness to believe that COVID is a myth than to believe in a cover-up about vaccines in general.”

One notable data point that seems to offer a measurement of a particular group’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories is their ability to say for certain that something is not true. For example, in Denmark, where vaccine skepticism is less common, 42 percent of people said it is “definitely false” that the harmful effects of vaccines are being deliberately hidden from the public, compared to just 8 percent of people in Kenya who said the same.

This same disparity also exists between different political factions in the U.S. On the question of whether the harmful effects of vaccines are being hidden from the public, 60 percent of Biden voters said this statement is “definitely false” compared to just nine percent of Trump voters who said the same.

A closer look at the results of the survey in the U.S. suggests that people’s political affiliations are directly linked to their willingness to believe certain conspiracy theories but not others.

In addition to showing more of a tendency toward vaccine skepticism, large portions of Trump supporters also said they believed in other conspiracy theories, such as the idea that the world is run by a hidden cabal who “secretly control events and run the world together” (42 percent) and that “man-made global warming is hoax that was invented to deceive people” (45 percent). Support for these theories was much smaller among Biden voters, 18 percent of whom said they think the world is run by a secret cabal and 7 percent of whom believe global warming is a hoax.

Biden voters, on the other hand, were much more likely (75 percent) to believe that members of the Trump campaign worked with the Russian government to help him win the 2016 presidential election, compared to just 6 percent of Trump supporters who said they believe this is true. Similarly, 73 percent of people who voted for Trump in the last election said they believe it is definitely or probably true that “certain forces in America stole the election from Donald Trump by committing systemic voter fraud that prevented him from winning,” while only 9 percent of Biden voters agreed.

Not all of the responses were split along partisan lines, however. Support for several other theories were similarly low across the political spectrum: 15 percent of Trump voters and 14 percent of Biden voters said they think it’s definitely or probably true the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks; 9 percent of Trump supporters and 8 percent who voted for Biden were similarly inclined to believe that “the official account of the Nazi Holocaust is a lie and the number of Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II has been exaggerated on purpose”; and the notion that the moon landings were faked resonated with 9 percent of Trump voters and 6 percent who backed Biden.