Powerlessness and Anti-Establishment Political Behavior

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2022-05-12

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Abstract

There has been a drastic increase in support for and beliefs in conspiracy theories, populism, and political violence in the United States as of late. These anti-establishment beliefs pose a fundamental risk for democratic norms. To understand this phenomenon, much prior work has identified general individual level identified, like heightened levels of uncertainty, and ease in comprehension and more political individual and group based identifiers, like political efficacy, distrust, and partisan strength/ideology as strong predictors. I theorize that these anti-establishment beliefs are better associated with a dispositional feeling of lacking control over one's life, as this has been considered to be a basic human need and affects many individuals, even those who are apolitical. I test this theory with observational data from four original surveys and two survey experiments that asks about individuals' level of perceived control and their support for conspiracy theories, populism, and political violence. Findings suggest a mixed relationship regarding how strong the influence of lacking control has over beliefs in conspiracy theories and support for populism, but that lacking control is the strongest antecedent of support for political violence, even when considering partisan and ideological strength.

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Keywords

Conspiracy Theories, Populism, Political Violence, Control

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