Proposal for the 2016 Time Series: Conspiratorial Thinking in American Politics

Though recent research has found that a majority of Americans believe at least one conspiracy theory, fairly few individuals exhibit strong beliefs about any given conspiracy theory. Consider, for example, the conspiracy theory questions fielded on the 2012 American National Election Study (ANES) Time Series. Questions were asked about Barack Obama’s birthplace, a “death panels” provision in the Affordable Care Act, advance governmental knowledge of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the role of the government in the levy breaches that occurred in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. These “conspiracies” vary substantially in political and cultural context, salience, and susceptibility to measurement error related to social desirability bias and partisan motivated reasoning. All of the factors bias — or, at least, complicate — our ability to estimate the predisposition of interest: conspiratorial thinking. In the following pages we outline a set of questions that circumvents the problems associated with questions about specific conspiracy theories and present pre-testing information regarding the reliability, validity, predictive power, and potential future uses of the proposed items.

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