How conspiracy theories can stimulate political engagement
Although a growing body of studies has explored the antecedents of people’s adoption of conspiracy beliefs, the behavioral consequences of conspiracy theories – particularly regarding political engagement – have been less explored. Research has looked at conspiracy beliefs, exposure to specific conspiracy theories, conspiracy thinking, and the communication of conspiracy theories as predictor variables. To date, the findings are mixed due to conceptual differences and the selection of predictors with different functions and aspects. I offer new evidence. First, I explore whether conspiracy beliefs translate into political engagement. Having analyzed the 2012 American National Election Study, I find a positive association between conspiracy beliefs and political activities. Second, by manipulating exposure to a nascent conspiracy theory that emerged during the 2016 presidential primary elections, I examine whether exposure to conspiracy theories drives intention to engage in politics. Across two original survey experiments, the results indicate that conspiracy theories may lead to positive action, encouraging people to get involved in politics. The findings demonstrate that the spread of conspiracy theories is not uniformly detrimental to society. These findings also help to explain why elites within losing political organizations are more likely to spread conspiracy theories: they are a means for mobilizing disenfranchised citizens.
Yongkwang Kim (2019) How conspiracy theories can stimulate political engagement, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, DOI: 10.1080/17457289.2019.1651321
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