Conspiracy theories infest all groups, not just media & academia's preferred targets

Joseph E. Uscinski, Joseph M. Parent (American Conspiracy Theories): . . . [p82] Now that we have distinguished those especially prone to conspiracy theories, what do they have in common? ... Starting with gender, women are about as likely as men to be conspiracy theorists. ... [p83] The hosts of "The View" are nice exemplars. 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.

As for race, the findings are mixed. Whites have the highest rate of falling into the high category compared to Hispanics and blacks, but by only about 4 percentage points. However, when we look at the high and medium categories together, 89 percent of Hispanics and 86 percent of blacks fall into the medium or high category compared to 72 percent of whites. And whites are twice as likely to have low conspiratorial dispositions. In relation to whites being black or Hispanic is a significant and positive predictor of conspiratorial predispositions when accounting for the level of educational attainment and family income.

Blacks are an interesting case study in generational change. Our argument suggests they would exhibit high rates of conspiratorial thinking than whites [p84] because of their minority status and a long history of racist conspiracies perpetrated against them. History, however, is not destiny. Comparing predispositions by age, we find that older blacks are more conspiratorial than younger blacks, presumably because they experienced still more discrimination. With the election of Barack Obama and other strides blacks have made up the social ladder, we expect blacks to become less conspiratorial over time as they gain power.

Of the other minority groups -- Native American, Asian, "other," and Middle Eastern -- upward of 80 percent fell into the medium or high categories. This broadly jells with our claim that minority groups are more prone to conspiracy theorizing, and suggests that the smaller a group is, the more conspiratorial it will be. However, the sample sizes are not sufficiently large for definitive statements to be made about smaller minority groups. Future research would be doing a great service by collecting more reliable data.

There is some truth in the age stereotype: conspiracy theorists tend to be about middle-age, but this may not be a product of the life cycle. Instead, we look at age through the lens of generations, which refers to people born around the same time and exposed to similar circumstances [p85] in their formative years. Because they were socialized in similar situations, people within a generation should exhibit similar worldviews.

We compared all currently populous generations in terms of their levels of conspiratorial thinking: the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Of those four groups, members of Generation X appear to be the most conspiratorially minded. ... These findings support our argument that conspiratorial predispositions stem from socialization.

People have long suspected Gen Xers of excessive cynicism. 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. Levels of trust in government sank from a high in 1960 to historic lows during the 1970s, rebounding only slightly for a few years in the early 1980s. ...

[p86] Then the reaction to this reaction set in. Now Millennials are more trusting of government and more likely to participate politically, to wit, high levels of youth turnout in the 2004-12 elections. Culture has shifted. ...

[p89] While ideology and party greatly overlap, one must look at conspiratorial dispositions across party identification as well. The evidence lines up similarly. On a seven-point scale from "strong Democrat" to "strong Republican," those ranking high on the conspiracy dimension range between 24 and 40 percent of the Democratic side and between 27 and 33 percent on the Republican side. In short, the empirical evidence suggests that conspiratorial predispositions appear nearly flat across political ideology and partisanship.

[p90] Each side is similarly conspiratorial but throws accusations in different directions. ... [p92] Each side believes that when the other side wins cheating is to blame and they believe it about equally. These beliefs rebound upon each other. ... While both sides accuse the other of being a bunch of credulous crackpots, our observation is that such accusations are made more against conservatives. This may be because, for mundane reason, the accusations are coming from the media and the academy. Since the beginning, that is since Richard Hofstadter, the claim has been that there is partisan asymmetry because the right is more authoritarian, anti-intellectual, and tribal.

Although there are differences between the left and right, scholars and the media should be circumspect about overdrawing them in this instance. 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 but overlook conspiracy theories closer to home. Hofstadter himself was a leftist with Marxist sympathies -- it is perfectly understandable why he picked up a pen in the wake of the Red Scare. ...

[p93] 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 here; ideology drives the worldviews of professors and journalists just like does everyone else. But that does not make it just. There is not much evidence that either side is significantly more prone to conspiracy theorizing. Yet this has not stopped either from slinging slurs at the other side while understating the conspiracy theorists on their own side. The may appear an adaptive behavior in the rough-and-tumble world of political discourse, but it should not pass muster as science.

Strikingly, it is the oft-overlooked outsiders who are the most conspiratorial. Who are they? Sixty percent of those who identify as "other" are high on the conspiratorial predispositions dimension. That is more than 20 points higher than the next most highly predisposed group, independents. Those identifying as "other" also boast the smallest percentage of people with low conspiratorial predispositions. This builds on previous studies showing that third-party voters tend to be much more distrustful. We want to be clear, however, and note that very few people claim to be a member of a minor party (about 4 percent).

There is one additional point to make regarding partisanship and liberal-conservative ideology. While we use both as blanket terms to caricature large blocs of people, there is great heterogeneity within parties and ideologies...

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