Members of a crowd argue with health experts and county officials during a joint special meeting of the Natrona County Commission and City of Casper at Casper College on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. The meeting, which was streamed live and intended to give information on the surge in COVID-19 cases in the county immediately devolved into a shouting match between officials and audience members. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming has the third-highest percentage of people who believe at least one COVID-19 related conspiracy, according to a May report based on surveys of Facebook users.

The results of the survey suggest that about 25% of people in Wyoming are considered “COVID-19 Skeptics”, indicating they believe at least one of the following conspiracies:

  • Vaccine would insert a tracking chip
  • COVID-19 is caused by ring of people who manipulate world events
  • COVID-19 is being exploited by government to control people

Surgo Ventures, which is a “privately funded action tank,” released the results of the survey looking at barriers to people getting the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday. They worked with Facebook to recruit 17,907 people across the country for the survey. The survey was completed on April 14.

Only two states had a higher percentage of “COVID-19 Skeptics” than Wyoming: about 30% of people in Arkansas believe at least one conspiracy theory and about 29% in North Dakota believe a conspiracy.

Surgo says they used the results of the survey to identify five different psychobehavioral “personas” of people in the U.S. to gauge their likelihood to get a vaccine and the barriers and beliefs that may be preventing them from doing so:

Surgo says that the percent of people in each cluster “represents the population-weighted proportion of respondents in each segment.” Wyoming’s clusters break down as follows:

  • Enthusiasts: 0.3%
  • Watchful: 13.4%
  • Cost-Anxious: 14.4%
  • System Distruster: 2.9%
  • COVID Skeptics: 24.8%

This doesn’t add up to 100% because it doesn’t account for people who are already vaccinated.

Surgo says that their January survey of Facebook users across the U.S. found that 41.9% of respondents overall believe at least one COVID-19 conspiracy theory. In the March survey, 42.1% believed at least one such conspiracy.

The percentage of people who believe a tracking chip may be implanted was 10.5% in the January survey, which dropped to 7% in the March survey. 25.5% believed the government was exploiting COVID-19 to control people which jumped 12% in the April survey.

In January, 26.7% believed COVID-19 was made by people in order to manipulate world events, which dropped to 23.2% in the April survey.

“Notably, there were no differences by race or over time for the number of conspiracies believed,” the think tank said. “However, there were differences in the specific conspiracy theories by race/ethnicity and over time from January to March.”

Republicans and Independents in the U.S. “are at least twice as likely to believe in any conspiracy theory compared to Democrats,” Surgo said.

“Although many Republicans and Independents want to get vaccinated immediately, they disproportionately say that they would not get vaccinated,” Surgo adds. “Around a quarter of Independents and Republicans said they would not get the vaccine, compared to only 5.9% of Democrats.”

“Across all political groups, between 20% and 30% of respondents said they want to wait at least three months to get vaccinated or don’t know when they will get vaccinated.”

Surgo Ventures also provided some suggestions on how policy makers can reach the various clusters. Recommendations for the “COVID Skeptics” group include finding people that group trusts to serve as “vaccine ambassadors.”

“Given that 84% of this group believe that the government is exploiting COVID-19 to control people, look to nonpolitical figures such as vaccine ambassadors to mobilize this group,” the think tank said. “These can include doctors and scientists, trusted respectively by 50% and 32% of this
group, and religious leaders, who are best positioned with the 9% who say the vaccine is against their religious beliefs.”

“Think outside the box. Solutions that swayed others may not work with this group. Misinformation is ‘sticky,’ continuing to exert influence even after being debunked. The best approach is to lead with the facts, explain how the information they’re sharing or consuming is misleading, and end
by reinforcing the facts again.”

Another suggestion is to pose questions to this group that may cause them “to consider why others might want them to believe a particular thing
about COVID-19 or vaccines.”

“Prevent misinformation from taking wider hold in the population,” Surgo added. “This can be achieved by simply warning people that they are misinformed, providing the facts, and encouraging people to evaluate information they receive more critically.”