What Drives Conspiratorial Beliefs? The Role of Informational Cues and Predispositions

Joseph E. Uscinski, Casey Klofstad, Matthew D. Atkinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? This study breaks from much previous research and attempts to explain conspiratorial beliefs with traditional theories of opinion formation. Specifically, we focus on the reception of informational cues given a set of predispositions (political and conspiratorial). We begin with observational survey data to show that there exists a unique predisposition that drives individuals to one degree or another to believe in conspiracy theories. This predisposition appears orthogonal to partisanship and predicts political behaviors including voter participation. Then a national survey experiment is used to test the effect of an informational cue on belief in a conspiracy theory while accounting for both conspiratorial predispositions and partisanship. Our results provide an explanation for individual-level heterogeneity in the holding of conspiratorial beliefs and also indicate the conditions under which information can drive conspiratorial beliefs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-71
Number of pages15
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • belief systems
  • conspiracy theory
  • media bias
  • partisanship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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