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Americans Skeptical of UFOs, but Say Government Knows More

Americans Skeptical of UFOs, but Say Government Knows More

Story Highlights

  • Two-thirds in U.S. say government knows more than it's saying on UFOs
  • One-third thinks some UFOs are actual sightings of alien spacecraft
  • Residents of the West show highest belief

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As an internet campaign called "Storm Area 51" has nearly two million people pledging to break into a highly secure military base later this month in the hopes of uncovering possible secrets about UFOs, a recent Gallup poll finds two-thirds of Americans believe the government knows more about the subject than it has conveyed.

Government Information About UFOs
In your opinion, does the U.S. government know more about UFOs than it is telling us?
Yes No No opinion
% % %
2019 Jun 19-30 68 29 2
1996 Sep 3-5 71 19 10

For decades, UFO enthusiasts have claimed the government is warehousing crashed UFOs, and possibly aliens, at Area 51, part of an Air Force base in southern Nevada. In other UFO news, the Navy recently issued new guidance for personnel to report "unexplained aerial phenomena" after a spate of unusual sightings by Navy pilots.

The 68% today who believe the government is withholding information about UFOs is comparable to the 71% found in 1996. Both times, the results were similar among all main demographic groups, including by age, education and party identification.

However, it appears that only about half the number who think the government is hiding something about UFOs think it is covering up information about alien space landings, specifically. This conclusion is based on the finding that far fewer people give credence to UFO sightings or have witnessed them, personally, than think the government knows more than it's telling.

  • 33% of U.S. adults believe that some UFO sightings over the years have in fact been alien spacecraft visiting Earth from other planets or galaxies.
  • The majority, 60%, are skeptical, saying that all UFO sightings can be explained by human activity or natural phenomenon, while another 7% are unsure.
  • 16% of Americans say they have personally witnessed something they thought was a UFO while the vast majority (84%) have not.

Even as most Americans are skeptical that aliens have visited Earth, the majority (56%) believe that those who spot UFOs are seeing something real, not just imagining it. This is up from 47% in 1996, possibly reflecting public awareness of military testing and the proliferation of drones which people may think can be mistaken for UFOs.

Separate from possible space landings on Earth, about half of Americans, 49% think that people somewhat like ourselves exist elsewhere in the universe. Even more, 75%, believe that some form of life exists on other planets.

Western U.S. Leads Nation in Believing UFOs Are Alien Spacecraft

UFO believers are found in all demographic and political segments of society, but are particularly likely to be residents of the West. That is the home of Area 51, as well as nearby Roswell, New Mexico -- where a crash of some kind in 1947 sparked the Area 51 conspiracy theories that persist to this day.

  • Forty percent of residents of the West believe some UFOs can be attributed to alien visitors. This compares with 32% of residents in the East and South and 27% in the Midwest.
  • Westerners are also a bit more likely than those in other regions to say they have personally seen a UFO: 20% in the West vs. 12% in the East and 15%-16% elsewhere.

Additionally, the new poll finds significant differences in UFO sightings by education and income, with lower socio-economic Americans being more likely than their counterparts to report belief.

Notably, Americans identifying as Protestant and Catholic are similar to the national average in believing UFOs are real. However, Americans with no religious affiliation are more likely to put stock in UFOs, with 40% saying some have been alien visitors.

Americans' Key Views of UFOs
We have a question about Unidentified Flying Objects, also known as UFOs. Which comes closer to your view -- some UFOs have been alien spacecraft visiting Earth from other planets or galaxies, or all UFO sightings can be explained by human activity on Earth or natural phenomenon? Have you, yourself, ever seen anything you thought was a UFO?
Think some UFOs are alien spacecraft^ Personally seen a UFO ^^
% %
U.S. adults 33 16
Men 34 16
Women 33 16
18 to 29 39 16
30 to 49 32 17
50 to 64 34 16
65+ 29 13
East 32 12
Midwest 27 15
South 32 16
West 41 20
College graduate 27 11
Not college graduate 37 18
$100,000+ 33 9
$40,000-100,000 34 18
Less than $40,000 37 21
Protestant/Other Christian 31 17
Catholic 32 14
No religion 40 17
^ Source: Aug. 1-14, 2019 Gallup poll ^^Source: June 19-30, 2019 Gallup poll

Bottom Line

While not a majority, 33% of Americans believe alien spacecraft have visited Earth at some point. This group is potentially sympathetic to those who want to uncover what the government knows about alien landings, once and for all.

Another third or so of Americans may assume the government isn't being completely transparent about what it knows, but not because it is hiding something. For example, they may believe officials are keeping quiet because unidentified sightings could unnecessarily alarm the public, or because refuting UFOs would require disclosing sensitive military information.

Regardless of what Americans think of UFOs or the government's awareness of them, the subject is part of the nation's consciousness with 86% of U.S. adults saying they have heard of or read about unidentified flying objects.

View complete question responses and trends (June 2019) (PDF download).

View complete question responses and trends (August 2019) (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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