CNN Lied That 68% of Americans Think Vaccine Is Needed Before Return to Normal Life
Only 9% think that
On May 11, CNN posted a story to its website headlined “68% of Americans say a coronavirus vaccine is needed before returning to normal life, a new survey finds.” A subsequent tweet from the official CNN account used identical phrasing. Various commentators reacted negatively, saying it showed Americans are “spoiled,” calling it “a fantasy,” raising the possibility of “strife and conflict down the road,” and noting that “Never is a perfectly likely timeline for a vaccine.”
The term “normal life” is ambiguous. Does it mean a return to pre-coronavirus normal, with no masks in public, packed restaurants, and no worries about large indoor gatherings such as concerts, basketball games, and conferences? Does it mean the end of government-mandated lockdowns, which many states are easing already? Maybe it means something in between. The CNN article doesn’t say.
Even worse, the data doesn’t match CNN’s headline or tweet, which is all many people will see in the age of social media.
The article doesn’t link to any polls— never a good sign — but mentions “two Gallup surveys.” I searched Gallup’s polling on coronavirus, and the survey questions are less ambiguous regarding “normal life,” with results that differ substantially from CNN’s claim.
One question asks “how soon would you return to your normal day-to-day activities” if “there were no government restrictions,” giving four options. The most popular answer is “after the number of new cases declines significantly,” getting 40 percent in the most recent survey. The least popular answer is “after a coronavirus vaccine is developed.” Only 9 percent went with that.
9 percent, you may have noticed, is less than 68 percent.
There’s another question that mentions vaccines, which is probably where CNN got the 68 percent figure: “How important are each of the following factors to you when thinking about your willingness to return to your normal activities?”
For “the availability of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19,” 68 percent of respondents said very important. Another 17 percent said somewhat important, while 8 percent said not too important, and just 7 percent said not important at all.
Well, sure. If there was a COVID vaccine, who wouldn’t return to their normal activities? But the question, unlike CNN’s article, doesn’t say anything about what’s “needed.”
“Thinking about your willingness” is much less restrictive than “needed.” Of course people are thinking about it. That doesn’t mean they’re unwilling to resume normal activities without it.
Gallup uses this question to ask about eleven things. Looking only at the percentage saying “very important,” three beat the vaccine’s 68 percent: “Mandatory quarantine for anyone testing positive with COVID-19” (80 percent), “improved medical therapies to treat COVID-19” (77 percent), and “a significant reduction in the number of new cases or deaths” (73 percent).
Respondents don’t have to pick just one of these factors, and clearly didn’t. More than 50 percent said that seven of the factors are very important, and if we add in somewhat important, all eleven factors clear 60 percent.
Additionally, while “assurances from medical authorities that local hospitals have capacity to accept patients” has a lower very important score than a vaccine (59 percent v. 68 percent), it has a higher score when adding in somewhat important (89 percent v. 85 percent). And “widespread testing to identify and monitor coronavirus infections” is close (61 percent very important, 82 percent when adding in somewhat important).
Claiming that this survey shows that “68% of Americans say a vaccine is needed before returning to normal life” is an egregious misreading of the data. Looking at the two Gallup questions that mention vaccines, the data shows that Americans are thinking about a lot of things, and primarily concerned about a decline in new cases.
CNN should delete the tweet, fix the article, issue a correction, and be a lot more careful to accurately represent survey data in the future.
Source: ARC Digital