Record-High Share of Americans Believe the Coronavirus Leaked From Chinese Lab

A week after a Wall Street Journal report reignited the COVID-19 origins debate, 51% of U.S. adults said they believe the pandemic began because the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology
March 07, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

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A slim majority of U.S. adults now say they believe the COVID-19 pandemic started because the virus spilled from a virology laboratory in Wuhan, China, according to a new Morning Consult survey, with the share of those who back the lab-leak theory climbing 7 percentage points over the past week to a record-high 51%.

The growth comes roughly one week after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Energy Department concluded that the pandemic likely began because the virus spilled from a Chinese lab, which reignited the origins debate and led to a news cycle that is still playing out.

Slim Majority of Americans Think Coronavirus Spilled From Chinese Lab

The share of U.S. adults who said the following comes closest to their opinion about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic:
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Surveys conducted Feb. 24-26, 2023, and March 3-5, 2023, among representative samples of 2,201 and 2,203 U.S. adults, respectively, with unweighted margins of error of +/- 2 percentage points.

Lab leak theory gains more credence among all political parties

  • With a slim majority of U.S. adults saying they believe the virus leaked from a virology lab in China, just about 1 in 5 now think it moved naturally from animals to humans. The share who back the natural transmission conclusion dropped 8 points from a late February survey, and the share of those who said they don’t know or have no opinion about the pandemic’s origins held steady at 31%.
  • Support for the lab leak conclusion grew across all political parties: The share of Democrats backing the theory jumped 10 points to 42%, the share of Republicans climbed 5 points to 72% and the share of independents increased 4 points to 42%.
  • Among Democrats, 28% said they believe the virus moved naturally from animals to humans, an 11-point decline from the previous survey. Meanwhile, just 8% of Republicans back the theory, representing a 6-point drop.

Latest COVID-19 origins report broke through to about half the public

The Wall Street Journal report fueled an ongoing news cycle that includes accusations from China that the United States is politicizing the origins debate, comments from FBI Director Christopher Wray that the bureau also believes the virus spilled from a lab in China and claims from lawmakers on Sunday shows that China’s lack of transparency has hurt investigations into the matter.

While the Energy Department and FBI agree on what caused the pandemic, the U.S. government is still divided between the lab leak and natural transmission theories.

Roughly half of U.S. adults (49%) said they have seen, read or heard “a lot” or “some” about the article, according to the Morning Consult survey, with Democrats slightly more likely to say they have seen the report than Republicans and independents. Meanwhile, 51% of the public said it had seen “not much” or “nothing at all” about the story.

The debate will likely remain in the spotlight as House Republicans have a hearing Wednesday on the matter and have also requested information and testimony from past and current Biden administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The Senate also got in on the action by unanimously passing a bill last week that requires Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify information on the origins of the crisis, possibly putting pressure on the Biden administration to voluntarily do so.

The Feb. 24-26, 2023, and March 3-5, 2023, surveys were conducted among representative samples of 2,201 and 2,203 U.S. adults, respectively, with unweighted margins of error of +/- 2 percentage points.

A headshot photograph of Ricky Zipp
Ricky Zipp
Health Care Analyst

Ricky Zipp is a health care analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where he conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises leaders in the health care industry on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Before joining Morning Consult, he worked as a health care journalist for Industry Dive and S&P Global Market Intelligence. Ricky graduated from Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in history and Northwestern University with a master’s degree in journalism. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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