This research was supported by a research grant from the University of Chicago. We are grateful to Betsy Sinclair, Kirk Hawkins, and attendees at the 2011 CCES conference for their suggestions on this research. Replication data and code for this article may be found at the AJPS Dataverse website at https://thedata.harvard.edu/dvn/dv/ajps.
Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion
Version of Record online: 5 MAR 2014
©2014, Midwest Political Science Association
American Journal of Political Science
Volume 58, Issue 4, pages 952–966, October 2014
How to Cite
Oliver, J. E. and Wood, T. J. (2014), Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion. American Journal of Political Science, 58: 952–966. doi: 10.1111/ajps.12084
- Issue online: 13 OCT 2014
- Version of Record online: 5 MAR 2014
- University of Chicago
Although conspiracy theories have long been a staple of American political culture, no research has systematically examined the nature of their support in the mass public. Using four nationally representative surveys, sampled between 2006 and 2011, we find that half of the American public consistently endorses at least one conspiracy theory and that many popular conspiracy theories are differentiated along ideological and anomic dimensions. In contrast with many theoretical speculations, we do not find conspiracism to be a product of greater authoritarianism, ignorance, or political conservatism. Rather, the likelihood of supporting conspiracy theories is strongly predicted by a willingness to believe in other unseen, intentional forces and an attraction to Manichean narratives. These findings both demonstrate the widespread allure of conspiracy theories as political explanations and offer new perspectives on the forces that shape mass opinion and American political culture.