As the war in Ukraine has escalated in recent weeks, conspiracy theories related to the conflict (and promoted by the Russian government) have become widespread on social media. The latest Economist/YouGov Poll asked Americans their opinions on a number of these theories and found that belief in them is closely related to how people view Russia and Ukraine, as well as the types of media they consume and find trustworthy.
One theory alleges that the United States has been funding biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine. While there are biological laboratories in Ukraine that have been backed by the United States, these institutions are aimed at preventing the production of biological weapons, according to the U.S. and Ukraine governments. Some in the U.S. media have misleadingly cited statements from American officials as evidence that the labs are producing biological weapons. Our survey finds that roughly one-quarter of Americans think this theory is probably or definitely true, including 32% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats.
Two other theories promoted by the Russian government — that Ukraine is staging attacks and blaming them on Russia and that many top Ukrainian officials are Nazis or Nazi-sympathizers – are somewhat less credible to Americans. While most adults say these claims are false, 17% say each of these theories is probably or definitely true.
Below, we provide a look at the share of Americans (belonging to dozens of groups analyzed) who say these theories are true. A major predictor of belief in theories about Russia and Ukraine is a belief in a conspiracy theory closer to home: People with a favorable view of QAnon, an American internet conspiracy theory and political movement, are more likely to believe unsubstantiated theories about Russia and Ukraine.
– Carl Bialik contributed to this article
Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between March 26 – 29, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3% for the overall sample.