Research demonstrates that certain political convictions are more strongly associated with conspiracy beliefs than others (Mancuso et al., 2017
). van Prooijen, Krouwel, and Pollet (2015
) demonstrated that conspiracy beliefs are most prevalent at the political extremes. They found a quadratic effect—that is a “U-shaped” function— in both the United States and the Netherlands suggesting that conspiracy theorizing is strongest at the far left and right, although stronger on the right. Similar effects have been found in Sweden (Krouwel, Kutiyski, van Prooijen, Martinsson, & Markstedt, 2017
). Although it is unknown whether conspiracy theorizing may be a result of political ideology, or vice versa, or both, this research suggests that extremist attitudes may be a consequence of conspiracy belief. On the other hand, Uscinski and Parent (2014
) and Uscinski, Klofstad, and Atkinson (2016
) suggest that levels of conspiracy thinking are stronger among those identifying as independents or with third parties.
There exists a strong assumption both within and outside academia that there is evidence for conservatives being more prone to conspiracy theories than liberals. Some studies support this assumption (Galliford & Furnham, 2017
; Miller et al., 2016
). Furthermore, several studies (e.g., Bruder et al., 2013
; Grzesiak-Feldman & Irzycka, 2009
; see also Richey, 2017
) reported a link between conspiracy beliefs and right-wing authoritarianism—a dimension of political attitudes characterized by preference for conventionalism, authoritarian aggression, and authoritarian submission to authorities (Altemeyer, 1996
). On the other hand, Oliver and Wood (2014a
) and Uscinski and Parent (2014
) did not find a link between political ideology/party and conspiracy belief, and Berinsky (2012
) did not find a link between authoritarianism and conspiracy belief.
How is it possible to integrate these findings? One possibility is that although both extreme left- and right-wingers are likely to embrace various conspiracy theories, the link is stronger at the right side of the political spectrum, as observed by van Prooijen et al. (2015
). In other words, although both extreme left-wing and right-wing ideologies foster conspiracy convictions, right-wingers are more predisposed to believe in conspiracy theories because they are also more likely to exhibit the personality predispositions that foster conspiracy thinking, such as the need to manage uncertainty (Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, & Sulloway, 2003
). It is also possible, given that much of the research to date has been conducted on American samples during the Obama administration, that situational factors, rather than dispositional factors, affected the discrepancy between conservatives and liberals. For example, the research by Miller et al. (2016
) was conducted in the United States while conservatives were on the “losing” side at the time of the data collection. In short, the method and timing of measurement could explain the discrepancies (Enders & Smallpage, 2018
On the other hand, it may simply be the case that the bulk of the research has been conducted by left-leaning researchers (Cardiff & Klein, 2005
). There have been many studies of conspiracy theories held by the right (going back to Hofstadter, 1964
), but few studies focusing on conspiracy theories held by the left (Douglas & Sutton, 2015
). The end result is that researchers may overlook conspiracy theories closer to home.