Trust Nobody: How Conspiracy Theories Can Distort Political Accountability
40 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2020 Last revised: 16 Jan 2020
Date Written: December 20, 2019
Does the spread of conspiracy theories threaten democratic accountability? In this paper, we argue that conspiracy theories can hinder electoral accountability by helping bad politicians evade punishment, while reducing the political rewards of good performance in office. This happens via two mechanisms: (i) decreasing voters’ certainty about new information and the trustworthiness of the informational environment, and (ii) increasing indiscriminate mistrust of political institutions. To test this theory, we design a controlled online experiment among US subjects. Results show that conspiracy theories decrease certainty about new information, trust in sources of information, and trust in political institutions. This has negative implications for the role of voters in holding politicians accountable.
Keywords: Accountability, Scandals, Conspiracy Theories, Trust
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