Study Finds Democrats Are More Likely To Fall For Media Hoaxes After Election Loss

Obama administration White House staff watches Obama welcome Trump to the White House / Twitter
March 2, 2017

A new study shows that an increasing amount of Democrats are likely to embrace conspiracy theories in the media after losing the 2016 election.

Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth, penned an op-ed in the New York Times Feb. 15 elaborating on a study from the American Press Institute (API) by political scientists Christina Farhart, Joanne Miller and Kyle Saunders, who study conspiracy theory belief.

The study, entitled "Conspiracy Endorsement as Motivated Reasoning: The Moderating Roles of Political Knowledge and Trust," compares how Republicans and Democrats changed their responses to a conspiracy predispositions scale.

According to Nyhan, the research "suggests that people embrace conspiracy beliefs as a way to cope with perceived threats to control."

The scale used in the API study was created by Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent of the University of Miami for their own study, which declares people are more susceptible to conspiracy theory belief when they face "group threats."

Respondents of the studies referred to the following statements:

Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places.

Even though we live in a democracy, a few people will always run things anyway.

The people who really "run" the country are not known to the voters.

Big events like wars, economic recessions and the outcomes of elections are controlled by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us.

The results of the API study found that partisan conspiratorial predispositions could vary depending on which party holds political power.

The percentage of Democrats who agreed on average with a conspiracy claim increased from 27 percent before the 2016 election to 32 percent after President Donald Trump won. But Republicans' inclination to embrace a conspiratorial claim overall declined in three of the four statements. The amount of Republicans who agreed on average with conspiratorial statements decreased from 28 percent before the election to 19 percent afterwards.

Brooke Binkowski the managing editor of Snopes, a news fact-checking site,  told The Atlantic in February that since Trump's election, more conspiratorial stories have risen aimed at liberals.

"Yes, there has been more coming from the left. A lot of dubious news, a lot of wishful thinking type stuff," Binkowski said.

Since the 2016 election, idea-based articles have swept the internet.

A popular article from Medium that received 12.4 thousand likes revolves around a Trump conspiracy. The article, titled "Trial Balloon for a Coup?" outlines the conspiracy of Trump using the travel ban as a way for the administration to test the "extent to which the DHS (and other executive agencies) can act and ignore orders from the other branches of government."

Robert Reich, who served as the Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration also wrote a conspiratorial blog on his website, The article is titled "A Yiannopolous, Bannon, Trump Plot to Control American Universities?" and responds to the violent University of Berkley riots that broke out when controversial Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was set to speak at the ivy league school. Reich suggests the riots were orchestrated by the right to gain attention to Breitbart's cause.

In August 2016, the entertainment site claimed that Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon said, "Nobody can blame you for beating your wife if it's out of love." Snopes fact-checked the story as "False."

"A fake news web site put words in Trump strategist Stephen Bannon's mouth to the effect that he defended spousal abuse as an act of 'love'," Snopes reported.

Another Snopes article refutes the claim from a site called Now8News that Trump signed a law to lower the age of consent to 13 as, "False."

"Reports about the President's lowering the age of sexual consent in the U.S. are recycled fake news," Snopes reported. The site had posted the same article about the Obama administration in 2015.