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How Religion, Education, Race And Media Consumption Shape Conspiracy Theory Beliefs

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A person carries a sign supporting QAnon during a May 2020 protest rally in Olympia, Wash.
Ted S. Warren, AP

A person carries a sign supporting QAnon during a May 2020 protest rally in Olympia, Wash.

Religion, education, race and media consumption are strong predictors of conspiracy theory acceptance among Americans, according to a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute.

The survey of 5,149 adults living across the United States released on Thursday finds a strong correlation between consuming right-wing media sources and accepting conspiracy theories such as QAnon.

The poll examines ties between religious beliefs and belief in false conspiracy theories. White evangelicals and Hispanic Protestants were the most susceptible to the QAnon theory.

About 1 in 4 respondents from those religious groups said they believed that "the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation," a statement associated with the false QAnon conspiracy theory.

That's notably higher than the 15% of Black Protestants, as well as 15% of Americans overall, who agreed with that statement. At 8%, Jewish Americans were the religious group least likely to say they agree.

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The report also looks at education and media consumption. Americans who said they consume far-right news sources reported the highest rates of conspiracy theory acceptance; close to half said they believe in the tenets of QAnon. The survey defined outlets such as Newsmax and One America News Network, or OANN, as "far-right."

People without college degrees who responded to the survey were three times more likely to believe in conspiracy theories than Americans who had completed college.

The PRRI survey findings largely aligns with results of recent polling by NPR/Ipsos, including a December 2020 survey, which found widespread uptake of ideas linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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