Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Conspiracy!

There have, of course, been conspiracies in history but the more complications involved, the more implausible they become, and the more conspirators needed, the more likely that it couldn't have been kept secret. Those two factors are the strongest arguments against most of the JFK assassination conspiracy theories quite apart from the forensic evidence. AEI's new study "Public opinion on conspiracy theories," isn't concerned with the truth or falsehood of various alleged conspiracies, but rather with those who seem most susceptible to believing them.
This AEI Public Opinion Study looks closely at public attitudes about a variety of conspiracy theories. This collection includes subjects such as whether aliens landed at Roswell, whether 9/11 was the work of the US government, whether Princess Diana’s death was an accident, and whether Elvis and Osama bin Laden are still alive. We also look at the persistence of the belief among a segment of the population that President Obama was not born in the United States. We begin with the assassination of Kennedy.
  • Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the belief that more than one person was involved in his assassination remains the most widely held conspiracy theory in America. In an April 2013 poll, 59 percent said others were involved.
  • In the few polls we have, a sizable minority of the population believes President Roosevelt knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor in advance and used the attack as an excuse to go to war.
  • Around 20 percent embrace the view that UFOs have landed in the United States at Roswell, New Mexico, and that the government is engaged in a systematic cover-up of this event.
  • In a 1976 Harris poll, 60 percent believed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was the work of a conspiracy. In a 2008 CNN poll, 55 percent endorsed the notion of a conspiracy.
  • In an August 2007 Fox News poll, 31 percent agreed that foul play was involved in Princess Diana's death.
  • In a July 2006 Scripps Howard and Ohio University poll, 16 percent said it was likely that the “people in the federal government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted to United States to go to war in the Middle East.”
  • Around 6 percent believe the moon landing was a hoax.
  • Fifteen percent told Fox News that there was a chance that Osama bin Laden is still alive, while 24 percent told CBS News that they had doubts about whether he was killed.
Conclusions:
This collection indicates that a small number, somewhere in the range of 10 percent (with the exception noted above involving the Kennedy assassination) generally believe in most conspiracies. Far more are likely to believe that the government is hiding information from the public.

We don’t find compelling evidence from the data in this document that particular demographic groups are susceptible to a belief in conspiracy theories. It depends on the theory. Middle-aged Americans are more likely to believe in the JFK assassination conspiracy than older or younger ones. Young people and Democrats are most likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories about 9/11. Women are more likely to believe foul play was involved in Princess Diana’s death. While the demographic data presented here are by no means exhaustive, we’re hesitant to endorse what much of the literature concludes — that the young and less educated are more prone to conspiratorial instincts.