Haidt added another dimension to Miller’s argument:
I don’t think there’s anything about the conservative mind that makes it more prone to conspiracies. But in the world we live in, the elites who run our cultural, medical and epistemic institutions — and particularly journalism and the universities — are overwhelmingly on the left, so of course Democrats are going to be more trusting of elite pronouncements, while Republicans are more likely to begin from a position of distrust.
Are there partisan differences in connection with conspiracy thinking?
Uscinski argues that in his view there is little difference in the susceptibility of Democrats and Republicans to conspiracy thinking, but
The issue here isn’t about conspiracy theories so much. These ideas are always out there. The issue is about Donald Trump. The numbers are so high because Trump and his allies inside and outside of government endorsed these election fraud conspiracy theories. Trump, his many advisers and staff, Republican members of Congress, Republican governors and state legislators, conservative media outlets, and right-wing opinion leaders asserted repeatedly that the 2020 election would be and then had been stolen.
This, has a lot more to do, Uscinski contended, “with the power of political and media elites to affect their followers’ beliefs than anything else.”
John Jost, a professor of psychology, politics and data science at N.Y.U., strongly disagrees with Uscinski, arguing that there are major differences between Democrats and Republicans on measures of conspiratorial thinking.
Jost wrote by email:
My colleagues and I found, in a nationally representative sample of Americans, that there was a .27 correlation (which is quite sizable by the standards of social science) between conservative identification and scores on a scale of generalized conspiratorial mentality.
In a separate study, Jost continued,
We observed a smaller but clearly significant correlation of .11 between conservative identification and a clinical measure of paranoid ideation, which includes items such as “I often feel that strangers are looking at me critically.” Furthermore, we found that paranoid ideation was a significant mediator of the association between conservative identification and general conspiratorial mind-sets.
Jost pointed to a January 2022 article — “Conspiracy mentality and political orientation across 26 countries,” by Roland Imhoff, a professor of psychology at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, and 39 co-authors — that examined the strength of the “conspiracy mentality” at the extremes of left and right based on a sample of 104,253 people in 26 countries, not including the United States.
Among their findings:
While there was a clear positive relation suggestive of greater conspiracy mentality at the political right in countries spanning the center — north of Europe such as Austria, Belgium (particularly Flanders), France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden, the conspiracy mentality was more pronounced on the left in countries spanning the center-south of Europe such as Hungary, Romania and Spain.
But it’s not only that:
Taken together, supporters of political parties that are judged as extreme on either end of the political spectrum in general terms have increased conspiracy mentality. Focusing on the position of parties on the dimension of democratic values and freedom, the link with conspiracy mentality is linear, with higher conspiracy mentality among supporters of authoritarian right-wing parties. Thus, supporters of extreme right-wing parties seem to have a consistently higher conspiracy mentality, whereas the same only counts for extreme left-wing parties of a more authoritarian makeup and with less focus on ecological and liberal values.
In a March 2019 paper, “Understanding Conspiracy Theories,” Karen M. Douglas, a psychologist at the University of Kent, writing with Uscinski and six other scholars, conducted a wide-ranging study of conspiratorial thinking. They found that “conspiracy beliefs are correlated with alienation from the political system and anomie — a feeling of personal unrest and lack of understanding of the social world. Belief in conspiracy theories is also associated with a belief that the economy is getting worse.”
In addition, Douglas and her colleagues contend that “a conviction that others conspire against one’s group is more likely to emerge when the group thinks of itself as undervalued, underprivileged, or under threat.”
Studies in the United States of “the social characteristics of those prone to conspiracy theories,” the authors note, show that “higher levels of conspiracy thinking correlate with lower levels of education and lower levels of income.” Another study they cite found that “conspiracy believers were more likely to be male, unmarried, less educated, have lower income, be unemployed, be a member of an ethnic minority group, and have weaker social networks.”