In his New York Times column posted today, Thomas B. Edsall explores the psychological roots of QAnon conspiracy believers who energized the riot at the U.S. capitol, and notes:
A Dec 30 NPR/Ipsos poll found that “recent misinformation, including false claims related to Covid-19 and QAnon, are gaining a foothold among some Americans.”…According to the survey, nearly a fifth of American adults, 17 percent, believe that “a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics.” Almost a third “believe that voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election.” Even more, 39 percent, agree that “there is a deep state working to undermine President Trump.”
Think about it for a moment – 17 percent, more than one out of six Americans believe this stuff. That’s not a tiny fringe of paranoid citizens. Double that, and you have the percentage of those who think Biden and the Democrats stole the election, despite the fact that Trump-appointed judges say it’s nonsense. Edall goes on to quote from interviews and academic studies. Among them this:
According to Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent, professors of political science at the University of Miami and Notre Dame, conspiracy theorists do not “hold coherent, constrained policy positions.” In a forthcoming paper, “Who Supports QAnon? A Case Study in Political Extremism,” Uscinski explores what he identifies as some of the characteristics of the QAnon movement: “Support for QAnon is born more of antisocial personality traits and a predisposition toward conspiracy thinking than traditional political identities and motivations,” he writes, before going on to argue that
While QAnon supporters are “extreme,” they are not so in the ideological sense. Rather, QAnon support is best explained by conspiratorial worldviews and a predisposition toward other nonnormative behavior.
Uscinski found a substantial 0.413 correlation between those who support or sympathize with QAnon and “dark” personality traits, leading him to conclude that “the type of extremity that undergirds such support has less to do with traditional, left/right political concerns and more to do with extreme, antisocial psychological orientations and behavioral patterns.
Edsall notes that researchers have found similar pattters among some left-leaning Americans, particularly when their party is out of power. Edsall continues,
In their 2014 book “American Conspiracy Theories,” Uscinski and Parent argue that “Conspiracy Theories Are For Losers.” They write:
Conspiracy theories are essentially alarm systems and coping mechanisms to help deal with foreign threat and domestic power centers. Thus, they tend to resonate when groups are suffering from loss, weakness or disunity.
To illustrate how the out-of-power are drawn to conspiracy theories, the authors tracked patterns during periods of Republican and Democratic control of the presidency:
During Republican administrations, conspiracy theories targeting the right and capitalists averaged 34 percent of the conspiratorial allegations per year, while conspiracy theories targeting the left and communists averaged only 11 percent. During Democratic administrations, mutatis mutandis, conspiracy theories aimed at the right and capitalists dropped 25 points to 9 percent while conspiracy theories aimed at the left and communists more than doubled to 27 percent.
Edsall’s column is focused on diagnosis, not remedies. That’s a big topic for another column. For Democrats interested in building an enduring coalition, reducing the widespread sense of loss is a critical concern which they must address with credible policies and creative initiatives to promote more critical thinking in education and mass media.