New poll shows Americans who trust conservative media outlets more likely to believe COVID-19 misinformation

A new poll has found that Americans who consume more right-wing media are far more likely to believe misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine against it.

In a survey released Monday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, respondents were asked about eight different misconceptions about the pandemic, ranging from “The government is exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths” to “The COVID-19 vaccines can change your DNA.” The survey found that 78 percent of Americans either believe or aren’t sure about at least one of the statements. However, the numbers varied greatly depending on party affiliation, vaccination status and source of news.

Employees and supporters of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in California hold signs reading “No vax mandates” and “Freedom for medical choice.”
Employees and supporters of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in California protest vaccine mandates on Nov. 8. (Will Lester/MediaNews Group/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin via Getty Images)

Some 64 percent of unvaccinated respondents believed or were unsure about four or more of the false statements, compared with 19 percent of the vaccinated. Only 6 percent of Republicans surveyed believed or were unsure of none of the statements, versus 22 percent of independents and 38 percent of Democrats.

Some of the largest discrepancies came from where Americans got their news. Those who received their information from the right-wing outlets Newsmax, One America News Network and Fox News were far more likely to believe or be unsure about the false statements than those who received their news from local TV news, NPR, MSNBC, network news or CNN. Only 12 percent of those who considered Fox News a trusted news source believed none of the false statements, versus 40 percent of those who trusted CNN, 38 percent who trusted network news and 32 percent who trusted local news.

The other COVID-19 statements presented by Kaiser — in the order of whether people believed or were unsure about them — were “Pregnant women should not get the COVID-19 vaccine,” “Deaths due to the COVID-19 vaccine are being intentionally hidden by the government,” “The COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to cause infertility,” “Ivermectin is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19,” “You can get COVID-19 from the vaccine” and “The COVID-19 vaccines contain a microchip.”

Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, conservative media has downplayed the virus and questioned methods recommended by public health experts in combating it, from masking to the vaccine. Fox News hosts have elevated anti-vax voices while promoting drugs like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, a drug that is prescribed as an antimalarial in humans but also as a dewormer in livestock.

Ivermectin tablets.
Ivermectin tablets. (Soumyabrata Roy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In July, the White House said it was in “regular contact” with Fox News and understood “the importance of reaching Fox’s audience about the COVID-19 vaccines and their benefits.” According to tracking by Kaiser, as of last month 40 percent of Republicans said they probably or definitely wouldn’t get the vaccine, versus 9 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of independents who said the same.

The misinformation about the virus and vaccine has proved increasingly deadly. On Monday, the New York Times published data showing that the gap in deaths between counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump in 2020 versus those that voted heavily for Joe Biden has continued to grow. In October, the death rate in the Trump counties was three times that of the Biden counties, the fifth straight month the gap had widened. The partisan gap between new COVID cases, however, has shrunk from its high earlier this year as cases across the country decline.

Explore how the Delta variant correlates with the national political landscape in this 3D experience from the Yahoo immersive team.