CNN is its own worst enemy. In a tweet Tuesday, the apples and bananas network told an exhausted America what it really wanted, based on two Gallup polls, was to stay far away from normal life until a vaccine for COVID-19 was developed.
Twitter users rightly questioned if the numbers were accurate, especially since a vaccine for coronavirus, by some estimates, won’t be available until next year. And by other estimates, may never come at all.
Turns out CNN misunderstood the polls they were using or were possibly pushing an agenda of sustained closure because, as Reason points out, 68% of people do not feel this way according to those Gallup polls. Nowhere close.
The CNN article cites a Gallup poll as its source. But Gallup did not poll respondents on the question of whether a vaccine was “needed before returning to normal life,” which was CNN’s wording of the question in the headline.
The actual question was “How important are each of the following factors to you when thinking about your willingness to return to your normal activities?” The option “availability of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19” was important to 68 percent of respondents. That’s quite different: A vaccine could be “very important” to people without being absolutely mandatory.
Arc Digital did the initial heavy lifting by digging into the polls and here’s what they discovered:
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.
Reason points out that CNN eventually did address the exact Gallup language, but it’s buried deep in the story.
For what it’s worth, CNN updated the headline late Tuesday afternoon to read, “68% of Americans say an available vaccine is very important before returning to normal life, new survey finds.”
But, as has been the way now for several years, the original tweet is the important tool in how fake news spreads. The correction is as useful to the accurate dissemination of information as a street preacher screaming that the world is about to end.