Trust Nobody: How Voters React To Conspiracy Theories
43 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2020 Last revised: 25 Jun 2020
Date Written: December 20, 2019
With the advent of social media, conspiracy theories became integrated into salient political debates, yet the scope of their implications on citizens' political behavior remains unclear. Using an online experiment among US subjects, we show that conspiracy theories decrease voters' trust in political institutions, such as mainstream parties and courts, as well as information providers. Subjects were exposed to conspiracy theories that are completely unrelated to American domestic politics, which further underscores the danger of such narratives. Results, however, suggest that voters do not weigh unrelated conspiracies in their evaluation of politicians' performance. Overall, our findings illustrate that an informational environment permeated by conspiracy theories could impede the functioning of democracy by eroding trust in its institutions, but that voters' capacity to keep politicians accountable is resilient to unrelated information.
Keywords: Accountability, Scandals, Conspiracy Theories, Trust
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