Consequences of Conspiracy Theories
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Although a growing body of studies has explored the antecedents of people’s adoption of conspiracy beliefs, the behavioral and attitudinal consequences of conspiracy theories—particularly regarding political engagement and policy stances—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 encourage people to get involved in politics. Third, by analyzing data from an original survey, I demonstrate that contemporary conspiracy beliefs substantively affect believers’ policy stances and might potentially distort policy debate and policy implementation. Findings suggest that consequences of conspiracy theories are substantial. The acceptance of CTs impacts citizens’ support for government actions to address the problems alluded to by such claims, which in turn distort policy debates and affect legislation. At the same time, however, the findings demonstrate that the spread of conspiracy theories is not uniformly detrimental to society in that conspiracy theories stimulate political engagement.