According to polls, most Americans today agree that the scenario posed by at least one popular conspiracy theory is very likely or somewhat likely.
On 25–29 June 1997, a survey was conducted of 1,009 people nationwide, with participants from every state and the District of Columbia. Guido H. Stempel III, distinguished professor of the EW Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University and Thomas Hargrove of the Scripps Howard News Service conducted the survey.
The results have a 4 percent margin of error with a 95 percent confidence interval, meaning that the results are projectable to all U.S. households 95 times out of 100 plus or minus 4 percentage points. At that time:
- More than half (51 percent) believe it is very likely or somewhat likely that government officials were “directly responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy.”
- More than half (60 percent) believe is likely that military officials covered up the dangers of the Agent Orange chemical.
- Four-fifths (80 percent) believe it is likely that military officials are covering up information about U.S. soldiers’ exposure to nerve gas or germ warfare in the Gulf War.
- More than one-third (40 percent) believe it is likely that the FBI burned down the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
- More than half (52 percent) believe it is likely that the CIA allowed drug dealers from Central America to sell crack cocaine to African Americans in U.S. inner cities.
- More than one-third believe it is likely the navy shot down TWA Flight 800 either intentionally or accidentally.
Respondents were asked if the above situations were likely to some degree. The above responses included the “very likely” and “somewhat likely” answers. Note that believing that something is “somewhat likely” may be the admission of possibility, not a firm belief.
|JFK before assassination|
Most Americans say that more than one person was involved in the JFK assassination. A Gallup Poll was conducted 26–28 March 2001 with telephone interviews of a randomly selected sample of 1,024 adults aged 18 and older. The results are projectable to all U.S. households with a 95 percent confidence and 3 percent margin of error. At that time, when asked, “Do you think that one man was responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy, or do you think that others were involved in a conspiracy?”—with the possible answers “one man,” “others involved” and “no opinion”:
Fourth-fifths (81 percent) responded that they believed that other people were involved in a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy, an all-time high.In the 1997 Scripps Howard News Service/Ohio University nationwide poll, the question concerned not more than one person, but government officials with direct involvement in the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The poll discovered:
More than half (51 percent) of Americans believe it is very likely or somewhat likely that government officials were “directly responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy.”AIDS and Drugs
A sizable number of people would agree with at least one of the accusations that the government manufactured AIDS or made drugs available in inner cities to attack African Americans. In a 1990 poll, reported in the 29 October 1990 edition of the New York Times:
- Nearly one-third (29 percent) of black New Yorkers indicated belief that AIDS was “deliberately created in a laboratory in order to infect black people,” versus one in twenty (5 percent) among white New Yorkers.
- More than half (60 percent) of black New Yorkers indicated belief that the government “deliberately” made drugs available to poor black people, versus a little more than one in ten (12 percent) among white New Yorkers.
More than one-third (34 percent) of black churchgoers polled in five cities agreed “the AIDS virus was produced in a germ warfare laboratory.”The 1997 Scripps Howard News Service/Ohio University nationwide poll discovered:
More than half (52 percent) of Americans believe it likely that the CIA allowed drug dealers from Central America to sell crack cocaine to African Americans in U.S. inner cities.Pearl Harbor
About one in three Americans say that President Roosevelt knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor in advance. The Gallup Organization reports that in December 1941, 84 percent of Americans said the president had done “everything he should have to prevent war with Japan,” with only 9 percent disagreeing.
Fifty years later, in 1991, Gallup found that nearly one-third of Americans (31 percent) agreed with the statement, “Roosevelt knew about Japanese plans to bomb Pearl Harbor but did nothing about it because he wanted an excuse to involve the United States on the side of the Allies in the war,” with 47 percent disagreeing and 22 percent with no opinion. As an interesting side note, 19 percent said they still have not forgiven the Japanese.
The conspiracy theory that the moon landings were a fake is less popular. A Gallup Poll was conducted 13–14 July 1999 with telephone interviews of a randomly selected sample of 1,061 adults aged 18 and older. The results are projectable to all U.S. households with a 95 percent confidence and a 3 percent margin of error. When asked, “Thinking about the space exploration, do you think the government staged or faked the Apollo moon landing, or don’t you feel that way?”—with answers being, “Yes, staged,” “No,” and “No opinion”:
Less than one in ten (6 percent) believes that the landing was faked while nearly nine in ten (89 percent) do not believe that the lunar landing was faked or staged.Time/CNN/Yakelovich Partners, Inc., conducted a similar poll 19–20 July 1995, with virtually identical wording, and produced similar results:
Less than one in ten (6 percent) believes that the landing was faked while more than four-fifths (83 percent) do not believe that the lunar landing was faked or staged.UFOs
Many Americans say that the government is hiding information about UFOs. In the 1997 survey conducted by Guido H. Stempel III of the EW Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University and Thomas Hargrove of the Scripps Howard News Service mentioned above, nearly half of Americans (47 percent) indicated that it is very likely or somewhat likely that “The U.S. Air Force is withholding proof of the existence of intelligent life from other planets.”
Another study, sponsored by the SCI FI Channel and conducted 23–25 August by RoperASW, found that 72 percent of Americans believe the “government is not telling the public everything it knows about UFO activity,” and 68 percent believe the “government knows more about extraterrestrial life” than it says. The study was conducted among a representative example of 1,021 adults aged 18 and over, with a margin of error of +3 percent.
Further, 60 percent of respondents in the RoperASW poll said the government “should not withhold information about UFO sightings,” while 58 percent said the government shouldn’t conceal information about “potential encounters with extraterrestrial life.”
Trust in Government
The above RoperASW study also discussed the issue of trust in government. The same poll found that about half of Americans (53 percent) say their “level of trust in the government has remained stable over the past five years,” while 29 percent say they trust the government “less than they did five years ago.” More than half of Americans (55 percent) said the government “does not share enough information with the public in general.”
After the Oklahoma City bombing, a poll was conducted by the Gallup organization that found that 39 percent of Americans believed that the federal government had become too powerful and large and therefore was a threat to the freedoms and rights of average citizens.
In 2000, this number increased to 45 percent, with 51 percent disagreeing that the federal government poses such a threat. The 2000 study was conducted 7–9 April 2000 among a randomly selected national sample of 1,006 adults aged 18 and over, with a margin of error of +3 percent.