PPP has a new poll out on the popularity of various conspiracy theories. The firm's write-up highlights the differences between Democrats and Republicans on these issues, which doesn't strike me as the most enlightening information here. (Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe Barack Obama is the Antichrist! Who could have predicted that?) More interesting to me is how this compares to past polls on the subject.
Take the JFK assassination. This is the most popular theory in the survey, with 51 percent of the country believing a conspiracy larger than Lee Harvey Oswald was behind the killing and just 25 percent saying he acted alone. (The other 24 percent aren't sure.) That sounds pretty overwhelming, but 10 years ago an ABC News poll showed many more Americans—70 percent—blaming a conspiracy for the president's death. Similarly, PPP shows 11 percent of the country believing the U.S. government knowingly permitted the 9/11 attacks to happen, with 11 percent unsure. In 2006, by contrast, a nationwide Scripps Howard survey had 36 percent of the people polled believing it either "very" or "somewhat" likely that U.S. leaders either allowed 9/11 to happen or actively plotted the assaults.
Comparing polls is a tricky business, and it's possible that the different numbers just reflect different methodologies. People might, for example, be less inclined to embrace JFK and 9/11 theories when they are proposed alongside such obvious kook-bait questions as "Do you believe Paul McCartney actually died in a car crash in 1966 and was secretly replaced by a lookalike so The Beatles could continue?" and "Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining power to manipulate our societies?"*
But it's also possible that these changes reflect a greater distance from the events being discussed. The number of JFK conspiracy believers was even higher in 1983—80 percent, according to ABC—so we may be seeing a steady decline in those theories' popularity as the assassination recedes into the past. And the anger that led many people to blame 9/11 on Washington may have cooled somewhat since George W. Bush left office. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that in 2023, there will be far fewer birthers, because there will be far fewer people who care whether ex-President Obama was qualified to hold office.
Obligatory advertisement: Preorder my book The United States of Paranoia today!
(* In case you're curious: The Paul-is-dead theory is reportedly embraced by 5 percent of the population—far less, no doubt, than believed it in 1968, though you might expect all those mediocre solo albums to make the theory more popular rather than less. The Icke/Slitheen thesis about reptilian overlords was endorsed by 4 percent of the country. I figure a bunch of those "yes" answers were only trolling, but some of the "no" answers surely came from people who just DIDN'T WANT THE LIZARD MEN TO KNOW THEY WERE ONTO THEM, so let's call it a wash.)