How the Left Fools Themselves Into Thinking the Right Are Conspiracy Theorists

By Ross Pomeroy - RCP Staff
July 23, 2020
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America is once again awash in conspiracy theories, and it's easy to understand why.

"Studies suggest that conspiracy theories flourish when people feel anxiety, alienation, paranoia, or loss of control," political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Joseph Parent wrote in their seminal book American Conspiracy Theories.

By themselves, a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic, an unprecedented economic recession, or widespread civil unrest are each enough to trigger all of those feelings. Americans are facing all of these events simultaneously.

That's why some stressed people have linked the COVID-19 pandemic to the spread of 5G cellular technology, insist that the virus was intentionally created and unleashed, accuse Bill Gates of trying to depopulate the world though vaccinations, theorize that mass protests were meant to start a race war, or contend that face masks are killing people.

Moreover, as these unhinged ideas fester and spread, polarization is rampant. Both the Left and the Right nurture their own pet conspiracies and accuse the other side of being a bunch of ideological whack-jobs. However, one side tends to receive the most criticism.

"Our observation is that such accusations are made more against conservatives," Uscinski and Parent wrote. "We believe the notion of asymmetry has persisted because academics and journalists align largely with the left. This pushes these two institutions to disproportionately dwell on conspiracy theories held by the right."

According to surveys,  Republicans and Democrats rate about equally in measures of conspiratorial thinking. For every conservative who wrongly claims that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, there is a liberal who erroneously insists that 9/11 was orchestrated by the Bush Administration. As people on the right cry foul about the potential for mail-in ballot fraud, people on the left insist that the Democratic National Committee rigged the 2016 and 2020 primary process against Bernie Sanders. But this conspiratorial equality is frequently lost on those inhabiting the ivory tower of academia, who overwhelmingly tend to be liberal.

"In political science at least, much of the study of conspiratorial beliefs has focused on conspiracy theories accusing actors on the left..." Uscinski and Parent said. "Searching through... conference archives, we found many papers studying conspiratorial beliefs held by those on the right and nearly none studying conspiratorial beliefs held by the left."

Considering that journalists now skew overwhelmingly liberal, with a 2014 survey revealing four times more Democrats than Republicans working as full-time journalists, it makes sense that they would tend to report on these right-wing conspiracy theories more often.

"The cumulative effect is that our knowledge-generating and knowledge disseminating institutions make the right look chock-full of cranks and the left look sensible and savvy. There is no conspiracy theory here; ideology drives the world views of professors and journalists like it does everyone else," Uscinski and Parent said.

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