A new poll by Public Policy Polling found that substantial numbers of Americans believe in a wide variety of conspiracy theories, from the moon landing being faked to the assasination of President John F. Kennedy. The polls show a partisan divide: Nearly 3 out of 4 Democrat believe the Bush administration intentionally lied about weapons of mass destruction to lead the public into supporting the Iraq war, while only 1 out of 4 Republicans believes there was such a conspiracy. The biggest takeaway though is that even in the age of the internet, when research is easier than ever, conspiracy theories persist.
Some of the more wacky questions almost lead one to believe that the respondants were just having fun with the interviewer. Four percent answered they did believe that "Shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our societies." Twenty-eight percent of Americans believe in a "secretive power elite with a globalist agenda [that] is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order."
Naturally, the political questions split along partisan lines. Thirty-seven percent of participants believe global warming is a hoax, despite an overwhelming consensus among scientists that global warming is happening and humans are responsible. However, Republicans were much more likely to likely to doubt the evidence: 58% said it was a hoax, compared with only 23% of Democrats.
One of the questions suggested that the respondents were indeed not taking the questions too seriously, or at least I hope not: 20% of Republicans believe President Obama is the Anti-Christ. Even 6% of Democrats believe President Obama will return in the end times to fight with Jesus.
Some of the conspiracy theories have persisted for decades: 51% believe there was a conspiracy to assasinate JFK, and 21% believe an alien spacecraft crashed at Roswell in 1947. Fourteen percent believe in Bigfoot or Sasquatsch. These questions, funnily enough, did not provoke partisan divides.
Even discounting a possible "fun factor" inflating the numbers, the high percentage of respondants who believe in various conspiracy theories shows that the internet is a double-edged sword for spreading truth. While it has certainly made it easier to research information, it has also made it easier to subscribe to specialized sources of news that reflect your already established beliefs, a phenomenon known as filter bubbles. Still, the internet is a new technology, so perhaps as people become more sophisitcated, this will change.