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Conspiracy Theories are for Losers

Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 18 Aug 2014

Joseph E. Uscinski

University of Miami

Joseph Parent

University of Miami

Bethany Torres

State University of New York (SUNY) - Buffalo

Date Written: 2011

Abstract

What drives conspiracy theorizing in the United States? Conspiracy theories can undermine the legitimacy and efficacy of government policy, and sometimes lead to violence. Unfortunately prior studies on the topic have been anecdotal and impressionistic. For purchase on this problem, we attempt the first systematic data collection of conspiracy theories at the mass and elite levels by examining published letters to the editor of the New York Times from 1897 to 2010 and a validating sample from the Chicago Tribune. We argue that perceived power asymmetries, indicated by international and domestic conflicts, influence when and why conspiracy theories resonate in the U.S. On this reasoning, conspiracy theories conform to a strategic logic that helps vulnerable groups manage threats. Further, we find that both sides of the domestic partisan divide partake in conspiracy theorizing equally, though in an alternating pattern, and foreign conspiracy theories crowd out domestic conspiracy theories during heightened foreign threat.

Keywords: conspiracy, conspiracy theory, epistemology, threat, truther, birther

Suggested Citation

Uscinski, Joseph E. and Parent, Joseph and Torres, Bethany, Conspiracy Theories are for Losers (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1901755

Joseph E. Uscinski (Contact Author)

University of Miami ( email )

Coral Gables, FL 33124
United States

Joseph Parent

University of Miami ( email )

Coral Gables, FL 33124
United States

Bethany Torres

State University of New York (SUNY) - Buffalo

12 Capen Hall
Buffalo, NY 14222
United States

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