Conspiracy Theorists Aren't Who You Think They Are. 'The View' Is Full of Them.
When asked to envision a typical conspiracy theorist, what characteristics come to mind? Middle-aged, perhaps? Male? A little gray around the edges? Reclusive? Raving?
Decent guesses, but all are slightly off the reservation. As a matter of fact, to glance the average conspiracy theorist, you'd be better off looking in the mirror.
"Given previous polling data, we suspect that everyone believes in at least one conspiracy theory, and most people believe in several," political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Joseph Parent write in their new book American Conspiracy Theories.
That's why, when Parent and Uscinski sought to reveal the characteristics of a typical conspiracy theorist using a massive, in-depth poll, they decided to measure respondents' inclinations towards conspiratorial thinking rather than just list conspiracies and ask people to select which they believe in.
To uncover these conspiratorial predispositions, Parent and Uscinski asked subjects to complete a survey filled with all sorts of statements, to which participants would indicate their level of agreement. Among them were statements like "Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places," and "The people who really 'run' the country are not known to the voters." The respondents who agreed with statements like these were deemed to have a higher conspiratorial predisposition. These people are the true conspiracy theorists.
So what were they like? The answer might surprise you.
For starters, women were just as likely as men to be conspiracy theorists. While it may seem difficult at first to picture a female conspiracy theorist, Uscinski and Parent noted that the hosts of the popular television talk show The View are great examples.
"Jenny McCarthy believes in vaccine conspiracy theories; Rosie O'Donnell has espoused Truther theories; Star Jones has suggested a conspiracy theory involving George Zimmerman; and Whoopi Goldberg believes the moon landing was faked."
In terms of race, blacks and Hispanics actually had slightly higher rates of conspiratorial predispositions than whites. They might have good reason, however. Racist conspiracies against minority groups are not unheard of in the history of our country. Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service studied the natural progression of untreated syphilis in rural African American men while misleading them into thinking they were receiving free health care.
When Uscinski and Parent examined how age was associated with conspiratorial thinking, they categorized the survey population by generation: The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Gen Xers took the conspiratorial crown by far. Given what was going on in the world during their formative years, this sort of makes sense.
"Every age sees scandals, but Gen Xers grew up in a somewhat anomalous age of less innocence: in the wake of shocking assassinations, galling FBI and CIA revelations, Vietnam, Watergate, and Iran-Contra," Uscinski and Parent noted.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the less educated a person was, the more likely he or she was to be a conspiracy theorist.
Now, the big tamale: ideology. Liberal figures like Paul Krugman and Chris Matthews regularly accuse Republicans of being whack jobs. Are they correct? As it turns out, Democrats and Republicans score about equally in conspiratorial thinking, and they both firmly lag behind self-described Independents. Conspiracy theorizing is bipartisan. Too bad that's about the only thing that is.