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Thu Jan 24, 2013, 09:47 AM

The More Republicans Know About Politics, The More They Believe Conspiracy Theories [View all]

Chris Mooney | Thu Jan. 24, 2013 3:06 AM PST

In the mainstream political press, the standard practices of neutrality and balance carry with them an implicit assumption: that Democrats and Republicans are separate but equal in their ideological biases, with each group just as inclined to support its own team and attack the other side. The trouble is, data from psychologists and political scientists suggest that this might be a naïve approach. At worst, it may fundamentally misunderstand the nature of American politics.

The latest evidence on this head comes from pollster and political scientist Dan Cassino of Fairleigh Dickinson University. In a national survey, Cassino examined belief in political conspiracy theories on both the left and also the right. He did so by asking Americans about two "liberal" conspiracy beliefs—the 9/11 "Truther" conspiracy, and the idea that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election—and two conservative ones: the "Birther" theory that Obama was born in Kenya, and the claim that he stole the 2012 vote.

The results were hardly symmetrical. First, 75 percent of Republicans, but only 56 percent of Democrats, believed in at least one political conspiracy theory. But even more intriguing was the relationship between one's level of political knowledge and one's conspiratorial political beliefs. Among Democrats and Independents, having a higher level of political knowledge was correlated with decreased belief in conspiracies. But precisely the opposite was the case for Republicans, where knowledge actually made the problem worse. For each political knowledge question that they answered correctly, Republicans' belief in at least one conspiracy theory tended to increase by two percentage points.

What's up with this? Cassino views these data as just one more indicator of an "asymmetry" in how Democrats and Republicans, or liberals and conservatives, respond to politics—with Republicans tending to be more partisan and tribal (and in this particular case, more willing to believe conspiracies about their political opponents), and Democrats less so. And while Cassino admits that his latest study wouldn't, in and of itself, constitute definitive proof of ideological asymmetry, he thinks it fits into a bigger body of evidence.

The rest: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/conspiracy-theory-partisan-bias

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