Two-thirds of Americans said they would not return to "normal life" until a vaccine becomes available for COVID-19, according to CNN.
The ramifications of this finding would be well worth discussing, since the timeline for a vaccine is unknowable: It could be available next year, in three years, or never. But it turns out that the headline, "68% of Americans say a vaccine is needed before returning to normal life, new survey finds," is fake news.
The CNN article cites a Gallup poll as its source. But Gallup did not poll respondents on the question of whether a vaccine was "needed before returning to normal life," which was CNN's wording of the question in the headline.
The actual question was "How important are each of the following factors to you when thinking about your willingness to return to your normal activities?" The option "availability of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19" was important to 68 percent of respondents. That's quite different: A vaccine could be "very important" to people without being absolutely mandatory.
The difference is a little clearer later in the article, where CNN uses the exact language from Gallup—but buried under a lot of other information.
This misinterpretation of the poll was first noticed by Arc Digital's Nicholas Grossman, who called it "an egregious misreading."
"Looking at the two Gallup questions that mention vaccines, the data shows that Americans are thinking about a lot of things, and primarily concerned about a decline in new cases," he wrote. "CNN should delete the tweet, fix the article, issue a correction, and be a lot more careful to accurately represent survey data in the future."
Updated at 5:00 p.m.: CNN changed the headline and posted a clarification.