About A Quarter Of The Public Believes Trump's Conspiracy Theory On Hurricane Deaths

But most Americans correctly say Puerto Rico has yet to recover from last year's storm.
A Puerto Rican flag is seen on one of the hundreds of pairs of shoes displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Mar
A Puerto Rican flag is seen on one of the hundreds of pairs of shoes displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims in San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 1, 2018.

Most Americans know the storm that hit Puerto Rico last year was devastating.

About 1 in 4, however, buy into President Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory that Hurricane Maria’s death toll was over-reported, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds. That number remains consistent regardless of whether they’re given information about the basis for the statistic or told about Trump’s lack of evidence for claiming otherwise.

Puerto Rico’s government revised its official Hurricane Maria death toll to 2,975 in August, following the release of a report conducted by researchers at George Washington University. Prior independent investigations also estimated that the death toll was in the thousands.

Last Thursday, Trump denied those numbers, claiming baselessly that “3000 people did not die” in the hurricanes, and accusing Democrats of inflating the numbers to make him “look as bad as possible.”

Twenty-four percent of Americans believe that Hurricane Maria caused many fewer than 3,000 deaths, the survey finds, while 43 percent say the 3,000 figure is about right. Another third say they’re not sure. 

Different respondents to the poll saw different versions of the question. Half of those surveyed were told that the Puerto Rican government had reported a death toll of 2,975 based on the results of an official study, and that Trump had rejected those numbers without offering any evidence that the figure was incorrect. The other half were simply asked for their estimation of the death toll, without any additional context.

The results among both groups, however, were nearly identical ― not only as a whole, but also when broken down along political lines. In both groups, more than 80 percent of Hillary Clinton voters accepted the official tally, but only about a tenth of Trump voters did.

That suggests the devastation in Puerto Rico has already become distinctly politicized ― and that even reporting Trump’s lack of evidence for his claim did little to dissuade his supporters from believing it. Only a third of Trump voters, and just under half of Clinton voters, say they’re even somewhat confident that government data on the death toll is accurate, with non-voters even less likely to trust the statistics.

More broadly, however, the public largely recognizes the scope of the storm’s aftermath. Sixty-one percent of Americans polled say the damage to Puerto Rico was very severe, and just 9 percent said they think Puerto Rico has mostly recovered from the hurricane. They say by a 26-point margin that Puerto Ricans are largely not getting the help they need, and by a 19-point margin that the government has not done enough to step in. 

Trump’s overall approval rating for dealing with the storm is just 32 percent, down from 45 percent in a HuffPost/YouGov survey conducted last fall. By contrast, most Americans last year approved of Trump’s handling of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck the continental U.S. 

The outlook is even more grim in Puerto Rico itself. Just 15 percent of Puerto Rican residents believe that Trump did a good job responding to Hurricane Maria, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Puerto Ricans also gave negative marks to the Puerto Rican government, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, and, by smaller margins, the federal government and their municipal governments. Two-thirds say they don’t believe they’re prepared for future hurricanes.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Sept. 14 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.