Trust Nobody: How Conspiracy Theories Can Distort Political Accountability

40 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2020 Last revised: 16 Jan 2020

See all articles by Giovanna Maria Invernizzi

Giovanna Maria Invernizzi

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Ahmed Ezzeldin Mohamed

Columbia University, Department of Political Science

Date Written: December 20, 2019

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Invernizzi, Giovanna Maria and Mohamed, Ahmed Ezzeldin, Trust Nobody: How Conspiracy Theories Can Distort Political Accountability (December 20, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3507190 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3507190

Giovanna Maria Invernizzi (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

New York, NY
United States

Ahmed Ezzeldin Mohamed

Columbia University, Department of Political Science ( email )

New York, NY 10027
United States

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