Look to the grassy knoll! The moon landing was faked! President Obama is a reptilian! Denver International Airport is the headquarters for the New World Order!
I believe in only one of these conspiracy theories (the grassy knoll theory is compelling), and I’m certainly not alone. According to an October 2014 article published in the American Journal of Political Science, roughly half of the general public believes in at least one conspiracy theory. For their research, authors Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood conducted 4 nationally representative surveys over the course of six years (2006-2011). Their surveys tested twenty different conspiracy theories ranging from the theory that the FDA is deliberately withholding natural cures for cancer (40%), to the Fed intentionally created the financial collapse of 2008 (19%).
According to a 2013 national survey by automated pollster Public Policy Polling, Americans believe a whole host of conspiracy theories. Below is a smattering of my favorites, selected from the twenty they tested (see full topline here):
Ranked by % “do believe”
One of the more mainstream conspiracy theories is the assassination of President Kennedy. Gallup has been asking about the Kennedy assassination since shortly after it occurred, and re-asked the question in 2013 during the 50th anniversary of his death. Immediately after the shooting in 1963, 52% of Americans believed others were involved in a conspiracy. Fifty years later, a full 61% still believed others were involved, which is actually the lowest percentage since 1966.
So who believes in all these theories? In the study conducted by Oliver and Wood, they found that “contrary to popular speculations, conspiracy theorists are not the sole domain of conservatives nor are conspiracy theorists all paranoid.” They did find that conspiracy theories are more popular among the less educated.
When it comes to politics, Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to think conspiratorially, according to the Washington Post. There are some differences by political party, for example, according to a 2017 Quinnipiac University poll, 43% of Republicans believe that climate change is a hoax. But Democrats aren’t immune, in a 2012 Washington Post poll, 52% of Democrats believe that corporations are conspiring against us.
Before you start making your tinfoil hat, or call everyone in America ‘crazy’, according to a 2015 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair survey, 69% of Americans still believe the simplest explanation when a strange event happens. So, we’re not that crazy.