As most regular readers know, I’ve been beating my head against the wall ever since the publication of that bombshell New York Times article from 2017 about UFOs encountered by the United States Navy in 2004 and 2015. And I’m hardly the only one. This topic has gained traction in any number of mainstream outlets and people have been discussing it seriously, as compared to the old days when any reference to the subject had to include a joke about “little green men” and crazy people. So it’s definitely been creeping into the collective consciousness of society for a while now.

So how has that affected people’s beliefs and perceptions? That question popped up in an article at Vice today which examines how venerable polling firm Gallup ended up putting the question to the public last year after not touching the topic for decades. Anna Merlan interviewed someone from Gallup who was involved in that particular pair of surveys from 2019 and learned that they felt it was worth doing for the same reasons I just pointed to. People seemed to be increasingly interested.

“Between the ‘Storm Area 51’ phenomenon and the New York Times articles about the Navy changing its protocols for pilots reporting unidentified things in the air—there was news of pilots seeing bizarre planes traveling at at hyperspeed—maybe we’re at the point where some of this is getting more credence,” Lydia Saad told VICE, recalling what she was thinking at the time.

Saad is the director of U.S. Social Research for Gallup, and she oversees polls about a lot of things that don’t involve aliens. But in 2019, she advocated for asking about them again, reasoning that the amount of UFO news flooding the atmosphere might have changed people’s opinions…

“This group is potentially sympathetic to those who want to uncover what the government knows about alien landings, once and for all,” Saad wrote at the time.

Here’s one portion of the Gallup results from last summer. On the positive side, when asked if they had heard or read anything about UFOs, 86% said they had. That’s a very sizable chunk of the population, so people are definitely interested, whether they actually believe there are alien craft or aliens buzzing around the Earth or not. (For the record, 33% believe the craft are or could be from a distant civilization. The majority do not.)

But the news gets a bit more depressing, at least to me, when you look at the history of Gallup’s polling on this subject. Keep in mind that 86% of respondents answered the question in the affirmative in 2019. In November of 1973, that figure was 94%. By June of 1990, it was 90%. In September of 1996, it was 87%. In other words, the number of people who had recently heard or read something about UFOs has actually dropped and is now at the lowest level Gallup has ever measured.

Are you kidding me? We’re into the third year of a revolutionary period in the study of these questions. The American government and military have actually come out and admitted that they have video of bizarre craft that they can’t identify and we’ve even gotten to see a few of them. These stories have been on every news network and in all the major papers at various times since the stories first broke. Is the information just not sinking in? Is it just too hard for some people to wrap their heads around such ideas?

It boggles the mind. But there’s some consolation in the fact that other outlets have done some polling on the subject as well. Back in 2017, even before the tic-tac stories broke, 20th Century Fox commissioned a survey and found that nearly half of Americans believe in the possibility of alien life. It was done in conjunction with the release of a movie about the famous Pheonix Lights incident of 1997. Somewhat incredibly, 67% of respondents said that the incident over Phoenix “could have been caused by aliens.”

As I’ve maintained consistently, I still don’t know if there are extraterrestrials visiting Earth. It simply hasn’t been established as fact yet, at least to my satisfaction. But there’s something weird going on and I”m running out of other possible explanations. And yes, I remain firmly in the 86% camp.