Conspiracy theories find audience in Democrats, Republicans

WASHINGTON • Democrats and Republicans alike are falling prey to misinformation as conspiracy theories thrive across the US in the weeks leading up to the presidential election, a new survey found.

A majority of Americans believe unproven or debunked claims and viral conspiracies, according to a joint survey by the liberal think tank, the Centre for American Progress and the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. The survey tested different conspiracy theories — on politics, science and public health — to gauge whether demographic or partisan backgrounds are correlated to a higher likelihood of accepting or rejecting certain claims.

Misinformation about Covid-19 is most pronounced among Republicans, with 48% believing that the disease is no more dangerous than the flu and 42% saying that hydroxychloroquine — an anti-malaria drug championed by US President Donald Trump despite scientific misgivings — is a safe and effective treatment for the virus, survey data shows.

Sixty percent of Democrats believe that Russia has compromising information about Trump, while roughly the same percentage of Republicans are convinced that there has been a coordinated effort by “unelected government officials” to undermine the Trump administration.

Less than half of those surveyed, 44%, said they would be willing to get a no-cost, Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine to prevent Covid-19, a finding roughly equal among Democrats (47%) and Republicans (45%). How- ever, only 21% of Black Americans report that they would take it, the survey found.

The survey’s findings underscore the indiscriminate impact of false or misleading information running rampant ahead of a contentious national election. The study also revealed a broad distrust of the government, drug companies, technology companies and news organisations.

“American society faces a genuine crisis in public trust in government, corporations and the media, exacerbated by wide partisan divides about who and what to believe,” said John Halpin, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress and co-author of the report, in a statement.

Despite heated national debate surrounding voter fraud, confi- dence in the voting process for the upcoming Nov 3 election was relatively strong with 60% of Ameri- cans saying it would be administered “very well” or “somewhat well”.

However, the issue of mail-in voting exposed stark partisan differences. Almost 80% of Republicans believe that increased mail-in voting will result in widespread fraud versus 79% of Democrats who disagree.

“If we can’t agree on basic facts about what is going on in our country, there is little hope of generating consensus on what needs to be done to control the pandemic and fix our economy,” Halpin said. “Rebuilding public trust in major institutions and the information they provide the public, is now a national priority.” — Bloomberg