Large portions of the American public still believe false claims of all kinds about guns, the COVID-19 pandemic and reproductive health, a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows. Though the poll found that percentages of Americans who believe that false claims are “definitely” true is small, the portion who think they are “probably” true is substantial. Overall, between half and three-quarters of the country belong to what KFF CEO Drew Altman called the “muddled middle,” saying that the false claims were “probably” either true or false.
Perhaps most striking of the poll’s findings is the incorrect belief, held by many Americans, that guns make them safer. Sixty percent of Americans believe it’s true that armed school police guards have been proved to prevent school shootings. Eighteen percent of respondents thought the claim was “definitely” true and 42% believed it “probably” true. In fact, as KFF noted, no studies have shown this, and researchers in 2021 found that in an examination of 133 cases of school shootings and attempted school shootings from 1980 to 2019, “armed guards were not associated with significant reduction in rates of injuries.”
What’s more, 13% believed it was “definitely” true and 29% believed it was “probably” true that people who have firearms at home are less likely to be killed by a gun than people who don’t have a gun. That’s also false: Studies have shown among other things that guns are rarely used in self-defense, that living with a handgun owner is associated with substantially elevated risk — particularly for women — of dying by homicide, that the spike in gun sales after the Sandy Hook mass shooting was linked to an increase in accidental deaths, and that handgun ownership is associated with elevated risks of death by suicide. Forty-two percent of people also falsely believe it’s either “definitely” or “probably” true that most U.S. gun homicides are gang-related.
Though statistics on gang-related homicides can be unreliable, statistics from the Justice Department’s National Gang Center, which were flagged by KFF, indicate that, between 2007 and 2012, gang-related homicides roughly accounted for just an estimated 13% of all homicides annually. Misconceptions about COVID-19 and its vaccines were less common, but still believed by potentially millions of Americans. Though COVID-19 vaccines are extremely safe and effective at preventing serious disease and death among people infected with the virus, fully 33% of American adults think COVID-19 vaccines have caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people — 10% think the claim is “definitely” true and 23% think it’s “probably” true — a reflection of the success of conspiracy theorists in spreading lies about the jab.
And 6% of Americans think it’s “definitely” true, and 26% think it’s “probably” true, that ivermectin is an effective treatment for COVID-19, even though multiple studies have shown the claim is simply false. On reproductive health, 31% wrongly think it’s definitely or probably true that “sex education that includes information about contraception and birth control increases the likelihood that teens will be sexually active,” and 35% wrongly believe its definitely or probably true that “using birth control like the pill or IUDs makes it harder for most women to get pregnant once they stop using them.”
In fact, studies have shown that comprehensive sex ed leads to reduced sexual activity, among other benefits. A 2018 review of 22 studies enrolling nearly 15,000 women found that, regardless of duration and type, past contraceptive use doesn’t delay or negatively affect women’s ability to conceive. The KFF survey polled 2,007 U.S. adults in English and Spanish between May 23 and June 12, reached either online or over the phone, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
The poll also pointed to potential interventions for Americans’ incorrect beliefs on various health topics: doctors. Ninety-three percent of respondents indicated they trusted their own doctor’s recommendations at least a fair amount, according to the survey. That was followed by federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration; about two-thirds of Americans have at least a fair amount of trust in those agencies to make the right recommendations on health issues.