A woman with a QAnon shirt protesting a mandate from the Massachusetts Governor requiring all children, aged K-12, to receive a flu vaccine

(AFP via Getty Images)

Amid a disturbing rise in the number of conspiracy theories taking root in the US population, a new poll has found that nearly one in five people believe that the coronavirus pandemic is a “depopulation tactic”.

Some 19 per cent of adults across the country agreed that “Covid-19 has been intentionally released as part of a ‘depopulation’ plan orchestrated by the UN or New World Order”, according to new polling data shared exclusively with The Independent by HOPE not hate (Hnh), an anti-extremism non-profit.

The survey of 5,500 people also found that nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of Americans asked think that it’s definitely, or probably, true that a Covid-19 vaccine “will be used maliciously to infect people with poison”.

Only slightly more than half (56 per cent) said that they would take a Covid-19 vaccine, when polled last month. Just over one in five  (21 per cent) said that currently they would not be vaccinated, 14 per cent said they would definitely not be and another 7 per cent said probably not. The remaining 24 per cent of adults were unsure or preferred not to share their opinions on vaccination. 

Men appear far more willing to take a vaccine than women. Four in ten men said that they would strongly agree with being vaccinated compared to 27 per cent of women. More than double the number of women (18 per cent) said they were strongly against a vaccine, compared to men, 

Just 16 per cent of Trump voters said they would be willing to take a vaccination against Covid-19 when one emerges, according to the poll, compared to 71 per cent of Biden voters.

Nearly a quarter of American adults believe that a Covid-19 vaccine “will be used to maliciously infect people with poison”, according to new pollingHOPE not hate

The president has muddied the waters around a potential vaccine, alternately offering overly optimistic timelines and then spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation.

This week, the president pushed a conspiracy theory that hospitals are over-classifying coronavirus deaths because “doctors get more money and hospitals get more money” – even though there is no evidence of that and experts say the count is likely under-reported.

“Our doctors get more money if someone dies from Covid. You know that, right?” Mr Trump claimed.  “I mean, our doctors are very smart people.”

The president’s promotion of the conspiracy came amid a record surge of coronavirus cases in the US, which is pushing hospitals to the brink of capacity and killing up to 1,000 people every day.

The US recorded 9 million cases on Friday, with almost 229,000 dead since the outbreak of the pandemic early this year, according to a Reuters tally of publicly reported data.

Mr Trump has repeatedly insisted a vaccine could be authorized before election day, even though top government scientists have cautioned that such a rapid timeline is unlikely. 

He has also made baseless accusations that the “deep state” at the Food and Drug Administration is slowing down the approval of vaccines. 

Former FDA officials warned earlier this month that public perception that a vaccine was being rushed out for political reasons could derail efforts to vaccinate millions across the country.

A report earlier this year from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) found that given how easily Covid-19 spreads, “60% to 70% of thepopulation may need to be immune to reach a critical threshold of herd immunity to halt the pandemic”.

While the effectiveness of the vaccine plays a role, it suggests that to stop coronavirus spreading would require millions of people in the US, and billions worldwide, to take a vaccine. 

Coronavirus remains a top priority for Americans, according to the new Hnh poll. Two-thirds think that the president has mismanaged the pandemic while 55 per cent believing that Covid-19 has shone a light on the vast inequality that exists in American society. 

Overall, there is widespread uptake in conspiracy theories across the states.

One-third of Americans (32 per cent) said that they think it is definitely or probably true that “elites in Hollywood, government, the media and other powerful positions are secretly engaging in large scale child trafficking and abuse”, a belief that has proliferated with the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon.

One in 10 Americans identify themselves as supporters of QAnon and of significant concern is the fact that 72 per cent of those who consider themselves strong QAnon supporters think violence is justified to defend something they believe in.

Dr Joe Mulhall, head of research for HOPE not hate, told The Independent: “Measuring conspiracy theory belief is notoriously difficult, and we should be cautious when judging how much people’s stated opinions reflect their deeply held views. Even so, we found a depressingly high level of awareness and support for conspiracy theories among large sections of US society – suggesting widespread distrust of the authorities and a feeling amongst many that they aren’t masters of their own destiny. 

“Whilst some conspiracies are harmless, many anti-vaccine and Covid-19 conspiracies have the potential to cause people to behave in ways that will damage both theirs and their communities’ health. There is an urgent need for effective strategies to combat disinformation, not just in America but across the world.”

Over the last few weeks, HOPE not hate has polled a total of 15,500 US adults with 80 questions on a range of political, cultural and attitudinal issues.

The information shared exclusively with The Independent was analyzed by data companies, Hanbury Strategy and FocalData, and is set to be published in a study, “Fear & Hope USA” later this week.

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