Every once in a while, we will get a poll that is truly unnerving like the percentage of Americans who entirely reject evolution or think that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. However, a University of Chicago study on conspiracy theories is enough for you to put on your tinfoil hat and look yourself in your underground shelter. Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood at the University of Chicago found that half of the country holds these conspiracy theories and some are just plain wacky.
Conspiracy theories are defined in the study as one that exists regardless of countervailing evidence and the person often converts such evidence into ways of supporting the theory. The authors state:
Although conspiracy theories have long been a staple of American political culture, no research has systematically examined the nature of their support in the mass public. Using four nationally representative surveys, sampled between 2006 and 2011, we find that half of the American public consistently endorses at least one conspiracy theory and that many popular conspiracy theories are differentiated along ideological and anomic dimensions. In contrast with many theoretical speculations, we do not find conspiracism to be a product of greater authoritarianism, ignorance, or political conservatism. Rather, the likelihood of supporting conspiracy theories is strongly predicted by a willingness to believe in other unseen, intentional forces and an attraction to Manichean narratives. These findings both demonstrate the widespread allure of conspiracy theories as political explanations and offer new perspectives on the forces that shape mass opinion and American political culture.
Some theories are not surprising like 19 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks. However, it is surprising to see one in four people believing that the financial crisis was caused by the small cabal of Wall Street bankers. Then there are those 11 percent of people who believe the switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs is part of a government conspiracy to make people obedient and easy to control.
It find this all very disappointing and frustrating. Everyone knows that the Green Bay Packers caused the financial crisis and that connection between the Chicago Bears being kept out of the playoffs and the introduction of the bulbs is no coincidence. I mean, geez.