A very serious study by the Public Policy Polling reveals that: 6% of Obama voters later believed he was the anti-Christ, men are twice as likely as women to believe in aliens and 18-29 year-olds are more likely than any other group to believe in conspiracy theories. The study also sheds light on how deep the roots of bi-partism run in American political culture.
More than just far-fetched plots, conspiracy theories contain our deepest fears as well as our most ardent hopes. Fractured along party lines, these theories reveal the internal tropes of each political family and how adherence to these theories is politically conditioned.
Conspiracy Theory Beliefs: A Mirror of Political Partisanship
The infographic below presents the most politically-divisive conspiracy theory beliefs in the USA. It shows that believing in a conspiracy theory doesn’t just demonstrate a pre-disposition towards conspiratiorial thinking: a conspiracy theory must align with one’s fears and aspirations – expressed also through one’s political stance – in order to be believed.
Divided in Fear: Political and Conspiratorial Bi-Partism
Measured both by vote and by party affiliation, a clear pattern emerges in conspiracy theories re-affirming the Republican/Democrat divide.
Republicans: the specter of totalitarianism and the open society
The two most commonly held theories in the Republican camp are that Global Warming is a hoax and that a New World Order is actively being sought by elites. The reason why both are so readily endorsed by Republicans is because they speak to a similar fear which is broadly held among the Party rank-and-file: the specter of totalitarian control.
For very diverse reasons, both theories rely on the belief that a small group will benefit – financially or politically – at the expense of the majority. Contrary to free-market economics or democratic political processes, however, this domination is asserted through totalitarian forms of control.
In his famed objection to climate change orthodoxy, Senator Jim Inhofe compared the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to a “Soviet-style trial.” The New World Order theory holds, similarly, that a small group of elites are secretly plotting to institute an authoritarian world government. Showing the intimate connection shared between both theories, some arguments merge both stating that climate change is a hoax to institute the legal framework for a New World Order.
Ultimately, these theories also point to a longing in the Republican camp: that for a single, monolithic source of power. Far from the diffuse and ephemeral structures of power in the post-Soviet world, Republicans still mourn the loss of a single, readily identifiable and accountable power structure.
Democrats: war and peace
The three conspiracy theories that receive the most credit from the Democratic camp are that Bush duped the public about the presence of WMDs in Iraq, that the CIA distributed crack in American inner-cities and that the American government knew – more or less specifically – that the US was going to be targeted for a terrorist attack and didn’t act to prevent this from happening. These theories are underpinned by fears and hopes that are constitutive of the mainstream Left.
What all of these theories offer is a conspiratorial explanation for war and US interventionism outside of its territory. In so doing, they provide a soothing narrative to avoid confronting the war-mongering attitude of a democratically elected government.
The idea that the public was duped into backing the Iraq War conveniently lays the blame at the feet of the Bush administration. The notion that the CIA entered the drug trade to fund its clandestine activities in South America again provides an explanation for war that evades political control. Lastly, the theory according to which the US government was aware of an imminent threat on its soil and chose not to act, so as to justify subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, show war being the product of a handful of manipulative, powerful elites seeking to serve their own interests and not that of the people.
At bottom, these narratives are all built around the same, fundamentally Democrat hope: that a well-functioning democracy is an inherently peaceful regime. Any war waged by a democracy is either self-preservation or proof that democratic processes have been corrupted.
Far-Left and Far-Right: United in Fear
The three conspiracy theories most shared by the Far-Right are the same as… the Far-Left. United in common fears, the respective flanks of the American political community give significantly more credence to the belief that fluoride is added to water supplies for reasons other than dental hygiene, that the tracks left by planes contain chemicals spread by the government and that shape-shifting reptilians are controlling an ever-greater portion of our societies.
The common thread between all three: the fear of mind-control. These theories all imply an already existing degree of mind-control, and typically those individuals that display the symptoms of being controlled tend to be the middle segments of the political spectrum.
The fear of being isolated on the flanks, driven in the wrong direction by a blind majority is shared by both extremes of the political spectrum. Their hope is identical as well: that the sheeple may eventually break free from the shackles of mind control. If they were to do so, they would obviously rally the true, yet under-represented, alternatives offered respectively by the Far-Left and the Far-Right. Or so these theories claim.