Conspiracy theories, political ideology and political behaviour

Hulda Thórisdóttir, Silvia Mari, André Krouwel

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It has been said that conspiracy theories are for outsiders (Uscinski, Parent 2014), referring to those who feel distant from authorities and other power holders. In this chapter, we explore the link between conspiracy theories, political beliefs and political engagement in order to answer the question of whether conspiracy theories can be viewed as a vehicle for the outsider to articulate their doubts about governments and ruling powers. In this context, we specifically examine whether belief in conspiracy theories is linked with a discernible profile of political engagement and participation. Do we see evidence for engagement or disengagement with conventional politics and actors, or does the conspiratorial mindset drive citizens towards anti-establishment and fringe political parties? What about non-conventional political participation? After defining and clarifying our terms, we will start out by examining political attitudes and
orientations in order to assess whether beliefs in conspiracy theories are more prevalent on the left or on the right, whether they are mostly found at the fringes of mainstream attitudes or if they are primarily a function of ideological content. After that, we will turn to research on conventional political participation like voting in elections. We demonstrate the strong relationship across Europe that conspiracy belief is linked with voting for a right-wing populist party. We also examine more generally if the likelihood of voting for an opposition party increases with belief in conspiracy theories. While evidence is scarcer than on voting behaviour, we then move on to political participation more widely, ranging from turnout at elections, political interest and other forms of civic engagement such as membership in civil society organisations.
In the chapter we distinguish between a conspiracy belief and conspiracy mentality. Conspiracy belief is when an individual assumes that a conspiracy theory provides an accurate explanation of particular events. Conspiracy mentality is a more general dispositional propensity to believe in conspiracies, which Imhoff and Bruder (2014) have argued functions as a generalised political attitude in itself.
Throughout the chapter, we will rely primarily on previously published studies but will supplement our coverage with recent data collected in 13 European countries – the European Voter Election Studies conducted by André Krouwel in 2019 – and data from a nationally representative survey conducted in Iceland.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories
EditorsMichael Butter, Peter Knight
Place of PublicationAbington Oxon
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780429452734
ISBN (Print)9780815361749
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2020

Publication series

NameConspiracy Theories

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    Thórisdóttir, H., Mari, S., & Krouwel, A. (2020). Conspiracy theories, political ideology and political behaviour. In M. Butter, & P. Knight (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories (pp. 304-316). (Conspiracy Theories). Abington Oxon: Routledge.