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Poll Position: UFOs and the Enigma of Public Opinion

Do you believe in UFOs? If so, how certain are you that they are extraterrestrial? Such questions seem to remain almost invariably on people’s minds these days, and thus, it’s no surprise that according to results from a new survey released by National Geographic, close to one-third of all Americans are said to believe in the existence of UFOs, numbering close to 80 Million advocates in the U.S. alone.

The latest survey was released in conjunction with NatGeo’s new program Chasing UFOs, which follows the exploits of ufologists James, Ben and Ryder as they travel around parts of the world studying reports of alien abductions, UFO sightings and crashes, and a host of other unique reports and encounters. While it’s convenient to time the release of such survey data in conjunction with the launch of a new series such as this, the data displayed here is actually nothing new. If anything, it only shows how consistently the UFO mystery has remained a part of our culture… and perhaps a few other things too.

According to a variety of polls taken over the years, belief in unidentified flying objects and questions related to their existence have consistently ranked high among items of public interest and opinion. For instance, a survey taken in 1977 found that while 92 percent of those polled knew who U.S. President Gerald Ford was following his term in office, a poll administered four years earlier had found that a slightly higher percentage (95 percent, to be exact) of those questioned were aware of the concept underlying UFOs. Trends over the years have also shown favor toward growth in the idea that UFOs represent some variety of technology being employed by aliens from outer space.

Polls also seem to indicate widespread belief in the fact that world governments are working to keep aspects of the greater UFO mystery under wraps. In 1996, a Gallup poll found a 71 percent majority among U.S. citizens reporting belief in government coverups pertaining to UFO sightings; a nearly identical figure was obtained by the Sci Fi Channel in 2002, who administered a Roper poll about UFOs. Altogether, while the new NatGeo survey shows only one in three Americans favoring “belief,” the general idea remains the same: large numbers of people over the last several decades have been maintaining awareness in the cultural staple that has become known as the UFO… whatever these objects may actually represent.

But I would argue that, while results from such surveys do indeed show a level of awareness among the general populace regarding UFOs, what they also tend to show are the cultural biases that exist toward the phenomenon. Indeed, while the program Chasing UFOs (which, months ago, one of its producers described to me as being a program that sought to “pick up where Project Blue Book left off”) does indeed look as if it addresses UFOs in a thorough and rigorous way, it is nonetheless also becoming evident that the extraterrestrial meme is being portrayed heavily here right from the outset. But would this be a problem, per se?

The issue here is that while UFOs may be extraterrestrial, if we attach ourselves to such a presumption, then we are left with the burden of having to find proof for such claims; and despite the apparent presence of what we might call “aliens” with some UFO reports, we really have no proof that the UFO phenomenon is in any way extraterrestrial. Sure, it might look that way, but despite the shady claims of covert inside sources who argue they’ve had access to “proof,” it remains something we still haven’t managed to lay our hands on.

Even in the event that UFOs represented a variety of non-human intelligence, there still might be other potentials that we should consider, and which in truth, might even better represent the unknown quantities this phenomenon presents before us. Among these other potential explanations for UFOs, we must consider the possibility that careful misdirection could be at work here; or what about the possibility (however remote, of course) that an indigenous terrestrial civilization could somehow exist? What about time travelers from our future, or even visitors from alternate dimensional states right alongside ours, which have managed to harness methods for crossing the barriers of space and time from other realities?

There are indeed an entire host of potentials here, and while they are indeed given, at times, their due and proper, we see that the extraterrestrial meme clearly and consistently remains the darling in the eye of the mainstream. In other words, whether it be due to the romanticism associated with alien contact, or the sheer prevalence of this explanation being ingrained within the public perception, it seems we’ve become far too married to the ET explanation for UFOs… and despite there being very little in the way conclusive proof for the idea.




Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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