Nearly one-third of Americans believe the official count of the number of people who have died from coronavirus in the United States is being exaggerated, according to a poll published on Tuesday.
The Axios/Ipsos poll, conducted July 17 to 20, found that 31 percent of Americans believed the number of casualties from COVID-19 in the country was fewer than what was being reported. That skepticism is up from where it was at the start of May, when an Axios/Ipsos poll had found less than a quarter of all Americans (23 percent) believed the true death count was lower than the reported number at that time.
The most pronounced shift in these numbers appears to come from the right — nearly 3 out of 5 Republican respondents in the poll (59 percent) said they did not believe the official death count was as high as it was being stated. That number was just 40 percent in May.
Those who said Fox News was their primary source of media consumption were also more likely to be skeptical, with 61 percent of viewers of the cable news station saying they believed COVID-19 death numbers were fewer than what was being reported, compared to 44 percent of Fox News viewers saying the same back in March — a 17-point swing.
Other Americans who said they were wary of the numbers being reported were those who said they didn’t have a primary news source. Among that group, 48 percent said they believed the numbers were inflated, and of those, 44 percent of individuals who said local news was their preferred media choice said they believed the reported numbers were too high.
Small increases were reported among those who use social media as their primary media source, as well as those who read newspapers or watch the network evening news programs. Those who watched CNN or MSNBC as their primary news media saw just a 1 percent increase (6 percent to 7 percent) in skepticism from May to July.
Even though a belief in the number of COVID-19 deaths being lower than what’s being reported had increased over the past two months, an equal number of Americans (31 percent) said they trusted the reported numbers to be about right. Most respondents in the poll (37 percent) said the numbers being reported at the moment are probably lower than the actual death count.
There’s strong evidence to suggest that kind of skepticism is actually warranted. According to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine earlier this month, as many as 122,300 excess deaths that occurred in the first three months of the crisis, which were not counted as having been from COVID-19, may be attributable to the disease.
“Excess deaths” are the number of deaths that were observed during the initial three-month spread of the pandemic that exceed the sum of COVID-19 deaths and the number of deaths typically seen at that time of year. While they may not be due entirely because of the disease, the number of excess deaths observed (which is 28 percent higher than what should be expected) shows a strong likelihood that coronavirus deaths were drastically undercounted.
Health experts, including those within President Donald Trump’s own orbit, have long warned about the strong possibility that the number of COVID-19 deaths being reported were likely fewer than what was actually occurring. In spite of these warnings, however, and according to government sources with knowledge of the matter, Trump has tried to make the rules for counting COVID deaths stricter, which would result in a smaller count of deaths in the long run.
As of 8 a.m. Eastern Time, more than 3.8 million Americans have been diagnosed as having contracted COVID-19 since March, with nearly 141,000 having died from the disease so far.