Last October I wrote about a depressing survey from Chapman University which found that 1 in 5 Americans—20.3%--professed to believe in ancient astronauts. A couple of regular readers let me know that this year Chapman University repeated the survey, and the results were even worse. According to the annual survey’s new results, fully 1 in 4 Americans, an astonishing 27%, believe that aliens visited the Earth in the past. Even more disturbing, 39.6%--more than one in three—believe that Atlantis or another advanced prehistoric lost civilization once existed. (The survey did not ask about Atlantis last year.) Similarly, 42.6% of respondents believe that the U.S. government is covering up knowledge of alien encounters, and a full third think that elites are plotting a single world government.
The more detailed full results show that only 29% of respondents disagree that Atlantis existed, while a more robust 40.7% disagree that aliens visited the Earth in the past. In both cases, about one third of all respondents couldn’t decide whether Atlantis or ancient astronauts existed.
According to the analysis accompanying the survey, two factors that are most closely associated with holding beliefs in paranormal phenomena like ancient astronauts or lost civilizations are low education and low income. The analysis also named both religiosity and lack of church attendance as associated factors, suggesting that people with a complicated relationship with religion—believers who have a lack of connection to their community of faith—are most open to paranormal claims.
The survey asked respondents about a fictional conspiracy—the “North Dakota crash”—and found that one third of all respondents believed it was being covered up. Apparently, respondents are either Puckish pranksters or generally believe that America is rife with conspiracies.
The usual caveats apply: The question on ancient astronauts was phrased loosely enough that one might reasonably interpret it to refer to scientific hypotheses such as panspermia, though it is doubtful that respondents interpreted it that way. Similarly, the question about Atlantis is ambiguous enough that some respondents might have assumed it referred to real Bronze Age-style archaeological cultures. The numbers also have a margin of error since they reflect the views of 1,511 adults, comparable to the number surveyed last year. Conceivably, the choice of whom to survey might account for some of the difference between the results from year to year. It’s also worth noting that a 2005 Gallup Poll found 24% of Americans believed in ancient astronauts, suggesting that the surveys are revolving around a rather stable general level of belief.
That said, this is a remarkable difference in the Chapman University results from just one year ago.
Think about that. If these numbers are generalizable, then 86 million American believe in ancient astronauts, and 127 million believe in Atlantis or another lost civilization.
It is probably no coincidence that the History Channel proudly announced that a new season of Ancient Aliens is on the horizon, with one of its episodes to screen as a featured attraction at this month’s Alien Con, a convention of ancient astronaut theory and science fiction fans.
But why would more people believe in ancient astronauts and Atlantis this year than last? I don’t see an obvious reason, and since the survey was conducted in April, we can’t even blame it on a general increase in crazy and paranoid beliefs this election season, though the survey did conclude that Republican political leanings were closely associated with belief in conspiracy theories. This is on par with anecdotal and scholarly observations that rightwing political beliefs are closely tied to conspiratorial views about the government, space aliens, and all-powerful elites.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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