What conspiracy theories did people around the world believe in 2021?

Isabelle KirkData Journalist
February 08, 2022, 11:06 AM GMT+0

Research by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project, covering more than 25,000 people across 24 countries, reveals the different attitudes towards conspiracy theories in different parts of the world.

The theory that a single group of people who secretly control events and rule the world together, outside of official governments, had the highest average levels belief across all 24 countries out of our list of 12 popular conspiracy theories. Support for this theory was particularly prevalent in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, with 72%, 69% and 61% respectively saying they thought it was definitely or probably true. A further 17% of Kenyans, 22% of Nigerians and 27% of South Africans said they didn’t know either way: that it might be true, or it might be false.

The theory that Donald Trump conspired with the Russian government in 2016 is popular with countries that are more sceptical of other conspiracies

The theory that members of former US President Donald Trump’s election team knowingly worked with the Russian government to help him win the 2016 US election was second on our list, in terms of average belief across all 24 countries, with particularly high numbers in Kenya (54% say definitely or probably true). People from countries which are, on average, more sceptical about other conspiracy theories have higher levels of belief in this particular theory, which is arguably more of a left-wing conspiracy theory than the others we asked about.

This phenomenon is present in countries like Great Britain, Sweden, Germany and France, but Denmark in particular stands out. While Danes’ belief in our other conspiracy theories ranges from as low as 3% saying it is ‘definitely or probably true’ that the AIDS virus was created and spread around the world on purpose by a secret group or organisation to 14% saying they think that the 1969 moon landings were faked, the percentage of Danish people saying that Donald Trump worked with the Russian government jumps up to 39%.

People are less likely to believe that President Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump in 2020 by committing systemic voter fraud. Belief in this is highest in India, with 39% saying it’s definitely or probably true, and Russians (37%), South Africans (33%) and Americans (33%) also have a significant level of belief in this theory.

Vaccine myth has high average support compared to other conspiracy theories

When it comes to average levels of belief across all 24 countries, the myth that the truth about the harmful effects of vaccines is being deliberately hidden from the public ranks third in our list. Belief in this theory is highest in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa (54%, 50% and 59% respectively say it’s definitely or probably true) and lowest in Sweden, Great Britain and Denmark (15%, 13% and 10% respectively).

However, people of all 24 countries were much less likely to believe the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus is a myth created by powerful people and that the virus does not really exist. Belief in this theory was highest in India, with 30% of Indians saying they thought it was definitely or probably true, and lowest in Japan (4%), Denmark (4%) and Britain (3%).

Which countries have the highest and lowest levels of belief in conspiracy theories?

Across all 24 countries surveyed, India had the highest average proportion of people answering “definitely or probably true” to our 12 conspiracy theories. The level of support for each individual theory ranged from a quarter (26%) who think the 1969 moon landings were faked to half (50%) who believe a single group of people secretly rule the world together.

South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria all had high average support for conspiracy theories, but this is largely due to the high levels of belief in a group of people who secretly rule the world together, mentioned above.

Danes had the lowest proportion of people answering “definitely or probably true” to the 12 theories, as previously mentioned. Japan also had very low average levels of support for conspiracy theories, although this did not translate into more Japanese people saying the conspiracy theories were definitely or probably false. In fact, Japan was second only behind Indonesia in countries which had a high average proportion of people answering “don’t know either way – this may be true or may be false” to the conspiracies on our list.

See full results here

Explore more data & articles

YouGov-Cambridge Centre

The YouGov-Cambridge Centre for Public Opinion Research is a joint research centre run by YouGov and the Cambridge University POLIS Department, which promotes in-depth collaboration between pollsters and academic experts. Alongside research and events, the Centre contributes to teaching at the University and provides several postgraduate scholarships each year.
View all publications