Trust Nobody: How Conspiracy Theories Can Distort Political Accountability
41 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2020 Last revised: 6 May 2020
Date Written: December 20, 2019
Does the spread of conspiracy theories threaten democratic accountability? This paper argues that conspiracy theories increase mistrust of political institutions and decrease voters’ reliance on the informational environment. This can hinder electoral accountability by helping bad politicians evade punishment, while reducing the political rewards of good performance in office. Results from an online experiment among US subjects show that exposure to conspiracy theories decreases (i) subjects’ trust in political institutions that are unrelated to the conspiratorial narrative, (ii) trust in information providers, and (iii) subjects’ certainty about new information. We discuss the negative implications of our findings for political accountability.
Keywords: Accountability, Scandals, Conspiracy Theories, Trust
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