Why are we so eager to embrace conspiracy theories?

Dec 28, 2014

Image: Andrzej Krauze

By Eric Oliver and Tom Wood

The world is awash with conspiracy theories: Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was diverted by the CIA; drug companies are preventing the release of natural cures for cancer; Queen Elizabeth is part of a secret plot to control the world.

Most pundits dismiss such theories as the ravings of a paranoid fringe. Some claim they are cranks who pose a serious risk to society. The evidence, however, reveals a more nuanced picture.

For the past eight years, we have been asking people in the US their views about conspiracy theories. We find three important facts.

First, the theories are widely endorsed. At any given time, at least half of Americans agree with one or more of the common ones.

Second, adherence is common across the population. Although racial minorities and the less-educated embrace them more readily, educated whites also subscribe to them.

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