CNN and other outlets have aired some pretty strange speculations about the fate of Flight 370, prompting a lot of complaints from media critics. But how popular are those theories with the general public? The latest Reason-Rupe poll asked Americans what they think happened to the missing plane. Here are the results:
Which of the following do you think most likely happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?
• It crashed due to mechanical problems: 35 percent
• It was crashed intentionally by the pilots: 22 percent
• It was destroyed by terrorists: 12 percent
• It landed safely and is in hiding: 9 percent
• It's linked to supernatural or alien activity: 5 percent
• It was shot down by a foreign government: 3 percent
• Other: 4 percent
• Don't know: 9 percent
• Refused to answer: 1 percent
1. Broadly speaking, "conspiracy" narratives seem to be popular. The answer invoking terrorists is clearly a conspiracy story, and the answers involving a deliberate crash, a foreign government, a plane in hiding, and supernatural or alien intervention can at least conceivably involve conspiracies too.
2. That said: Of the options offered, it's the one clearly non-conspiratorial story that got a plurality of the support.
3. A certain number of respondents, presented with an option like "It's linked to supernatural or alien activity," are going to select that just to screw with the results. I don't know how big that phenomenon—call it the Troll Effect—might be, but having gone through the answers that were volunteered by the folks who picked "Other," it's clear that there's at least a few people out there who are messing with us. One person said "All of the Above."
4. Whatever Americans may believe about what happened to the plane, most of us have kept our heads when it comes to letting this rare event affect our risk assessment. Here's one more question from the survey:
Would you say the events surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 make you more likely to fly, less likely, or doesn't it have much effect on whether or not you will fly?
• More likely: 1 percent
• Less likely: 17 percent
• Not much effect: 81 percent
For further thoughts, see my article "The Flight 370 Conspiracy Stories Aren't About to Stop." For more on conspiracy theories in general, see my book The United States of Paranoia.