Surveys look into the heart of GOP weirdness: belief in conspiracy theories

Summary: This is the sixth in a series about the Right in America. The first five conveyed disturbing information, but the comments confirm what the op-ed pages tell us, that most Americans see nothing extraordinary with our current political system. Some consider us exceptional in a good way, some see our system as broken. Few see the dysfunctionality that has grown so deep in it. This is more of the Oz phenomenon discussed in an earlier post. The oddest thing is not that I see things like Flying Monkeys; it is that other people see just squirrels. Let’s try again, and look at two surveys of American’s beliefs.  Do you see strange and wonderful creatures? Until we see the weirdness, we cannot start to fix it.

Wonka and the GOP

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Contents

  1. Our situation did not just happen
  2. Significance of these findings
  3. The first poll’s disturbing findings
  4. The second poll’s disturbing findings
  5. Other Posts in this series
  6. For More Information
  7. The two reasons to vote Republican

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(1)  Our situation did not just happen

Today we will examine highlights from two surveys of the American people, with their strange discoveries.

But first, a reminder that extraordinary changes seldom just happen to a society.  The New America now emerging from the corpse of the Republic-that-Once-Was results from patient and skillful investments by conservative plutocrats in people and institutions. Their success is earned, no matter how you feel about the result, just as Mother Nature doesn’t care what kind of plants sprout from well-tended fields — addictive drugs or valuable foods.  Here are some of the key documents planning our future.

  • The Powell Memorandum: Sent by Lewis F. Powell, Jr. on 23 August 1971 (2 months before his nomination to Supreme Court) to Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Titled Attack On American Free Enterprise System, it outlined a strategy for large corporations to rollback much of the New Deal reforms on business.
  • The article creating the mythology of tax-cuts as the magic elixir: “Taxes and a Two-Santa Theory“, Jude Wanniski, National Observer, 6 March 1976 — Until then the GOP usually opposed tax cuts.
  • Project for a Republican Future: a memorandum to Republican Leaders from William Kristol about defeating President Clinton’s Health Care Proposal, 2 December 1993

We see the results of their execution all around us.  The lavishly funded think-tanks: CATO, Heritage, the Hoover Institute. The conservative academic institutions, such as the U Chicago Economics team and its satellites. The web of organizations that locate, recruit, train, and support people from the grassroots, such as the Young Republicans. The SHAME PROJECT biographies show how this network works.  They have invested in people and reaped a thousand-fold.

(2)  Significance of these findings

All the things described above, with leaders willingness to lie for the cause plus massive spending over several generations, yields the results you see below: a substantial part of America believes things that are obviously not so. Totally believes, beyond the hope of education. Perhaps only generational change will create the possibility of reform, and only then if our plutocrats can be prevented from repeating their indoctrination with upcoming generations.

People with such beliefs are ideal shock troops for our plutocrats, easily motivated into supporting extreme causes — as the Tea Party Movement has successfully shifted the GOP further to the Right. The political effects we see in today’s news, as they hold the Federal government hostage — threatening a long shutdown and even default if their demands are not met. If this works to a significant degree, further actions will follow.

(3)  The first poll’s disturbing findings

From Democrats and Republicans differ on conspiracy theory beliefs, a survey by Public Policy Polling, 2 April 2013.

#8:  Do you believe President Barack Obama is the anti-Christ?

This is a nice next step from the “Is Obama not a US citizen” and “Is Obama a Moslem?” questions, whose weirdness we have become accustomed to.

Public Policy Polling, 2 April 2013: Q8
Public Policy Polling, 2 April 2013: Q8

Q9:  Do you believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to promote the Iraq War?

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While an important question, there is no conspiracy involved in the usual sense of the term. Governments do many secret things (at least, our government does), which are ordinarily not considered conspiracies.

Public Policy Polling, 2 April 2013: Q9
Public Policy Polling, 2 April 2013: Q9

(3)  The second poll’s disturbing findings

From Republicans are more likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories about the government, a survey by Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013.

#1:  Do you think the Obama Administration is secretly trying to take everyone’s guns away?

Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013: Q1
Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013: Q1

#6:  Do you think the U.S. government has engaged in the assassination of political leaders who tried to spread a political message they didn’t like, such as Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others?

Large segments of both parties believe this. Independents are less likely to believe this.  Interesting, somewhat odd pattern to this disturbing question. I’m in the “not sure” box to this as a general question (i.e., has the government done this, not specific to MLK Jr?).

Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013: Q6
Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013: Q6

#9:  Do you think that a group of world bankers is slowly eliminating paper currency until most banking is done electronically, and then will cut the power grid so that most citizens will not have access to any money and will be forced into worldwide slavery?

Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013: Q9
Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013: Q9

#11:  Do you think Barack Obama is secretly trying to figure out a way to stay in office beyond 2017?

Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013: Q11
Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013: Q11

#13:  Do you think Muslims are covertly implementing Sharia Law in American court systems?

Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013: Q13
Public Policy Polling, 2 October 2013: Q13

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(4) Other Posts in this series about the Right in America

Motto of the 1%
Motto of the 1%
  1. The key to modern American politics:  the Right-Wing Id Unzipped, 15 February 2012
  2. A harsh clear look at the history of the Republican Party, 22 September 2013
  3. Conservatives show us their thinking, not well glued to reality, 30 September 2013
  4. Most of what Democrats say is wrong about the Republicans’ recent actions in Congress, 1 October 2013
  5. What are the odds of violence from the Right in America?,
    2 October 2013

(5)  For More Information

How do people come to believe this incredible things? See the posts listed on the FM Reference Page Information & disinformation

Some posts about successful propaganda:

  1. Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America, 1 February 2010
  2. More propaganda: the eco-fable of Easter Island, 4 February 2010
  3. Can Obama turn America into something like Zimbabwe?, 22 February 2010
  4. A note about practical propaganda, 22 March 2010
  5. About the political significance of the conservatives’ health care propaganda, 23 March 2010
  6. The similar delusions of America’s Left and Right show our common culture – and weakness, 26 March 2010
  7. Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
  8. The easy way to rule: leading a weak people by feeding them disinformation, 13 April 2011
  9. Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011
  10. Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda, 28 December 2011
  11. More use of the big lie: shifting the blame for the housing crisis, 29 December 2011
  12. Understanding our political system: the how-to guide by its builders, 7 October 2012
  13. Who lies to us the most? Left or Right?, 25 February 2013
  14. We can see our true selves in the propaganda used against us, 14 May 2013
  15. A nation lit only by propaganda, 3 June 2013
  16. The secret, simple tool that persuades Americans. That molds our opinions., 24 July 2013

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Two sides of the GOP
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17 thoughts on “Surveys look into the heart of GOP weirdness: belief in conspiracy theories

  1. Strong post. To the point, with good primary sources to make your point.

    Back in the ’70s, I remember reading The National Review, along with things like The Guardian Weekly (which had a summation of stuff from the Washington Post, Le Monde and The Guardian) and The New Statesman. I tried to keep abreast of both right and left.

    After that Powell Memo, I have a recollection of The National Review, under the guidance of WFB, Jr., gearing up to begin this plutocratic onslaught that has been a disaster for most of us.

    What was most interesting, though, were the older union workers telling me that “The Man” was starting a big push to put the workers back in their earlier place of lower wages, longer hours and fewer benefits. None of these guys had a college education, but they had tremendous insight into what was really going on. All this insight in 1975!

  2. FM, I think what you consider to be a surprisingly high rate of positive responses to the sixth question in the second study (“Do you think the U.S. government has engaged in the assassination of political leaders who tried to spread a political message they didn’t like, such as Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others?”) potentially might be explained by the fact that our government has in one sense done this in recent memory.

    I think it could be argued (and has been by some here in this country) that the “targeted killing” of Anwar al-Awlaki — a man born in the United States and in possession of U.S. citizenship under the principle of jus soli (the right of soil) — via drone strike without benefit of due process would fit the criteria included in this question and would therefore count as an assassination of a political leader considered undesirable. Since this was a fairly recent and well publicized as well as unprecedented incident, it’s possible that the question reminded many of the respondents of al-Awlaki — even if they didn’t remember his name — and prompted them to answer the question in the affirmative. After all, al-Awlaki was considered to be a political leader by the American government (who identified him as a “regional commander” of al-Qaeda) and he was most definitely trying to spread a message that they didn’t like (he promoted Islamic jihad against the United States and its citizens).

  3. Some of the poll responses are so shocking. (As are others in recent years.) To think that over 2 in 5 Republicans believe Obama is trying to stay in office when his term is over is breathtaking. The same for Muslims secretly implementing Sharia law.

    The creeping wing-nut disease reminds me of Night of the Living Dead.

    Ken

    1. Ken,

      I agree. But the thinking and beliefs of shock troops cannot be that of average people. Propaganda is necessary to produce the fervor and disregard for personal interests necessary for them to act as needed.

      Fortunately, Americans — Left and Right — are quite gullible.

      Today’s post is the IOCC’s rebuttal to the climate alarmists’ claims about imminent extreme weather.

    2. Actually, it doesn’t surprise me quite so much that over 2 out of 5 Republicans believe Obama is planning to keep himself in office after 2017. I remember hearing from quite a few Democrats who had the same concerns about Bush during his second term. Even I occasionally found myself wondering whether another terrorist attack or similar incident might give the administration a reason to declare martial law and postpone the elections. After all, in 2006, Bush *did* sign the Defense Authorization Act of 2007 which gave him the right to declare a national emergency in the event of such an occurrence and authorized him to take control of National Guard units without the consent of state governors or other local authorities in the name of restoring public order. This represented a de facto repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prohibited the armed forces from being used for law enforcement unless an act of Congress or an amendment to the Constitution declared otherwise.

      These changes were repealed in 2008…but given the simple fact that an American president was actually willing to sign off on a bill such as this (never mind a president such as Bush, who already seemed intent on upsetting the system of checks and balances and giving the Executive Branch much more power), I think it’s understandable that actions of this kind would have made a number of people very nervous, and especially people who were vocal in their disagreement with most of the policies of that administration.

  4. i know i’m being glib here, but i really do love the people who answered “not sure” to the anti-Christ question. are they still waiting for the sky to become as dark as sack cloth and for a third of the stars to fall into the sea before they’re sure one way or the other?

    1. Underscore,

      Great point; I had not thought about that.

      Perhaps they are hedging their bets. The Bible says that the Judeo-Christian God gets ugly when crossed. Best not to be too obvious about disbelief — just in case the stories about Hell are correct.

  5. The poll results – while not particularly unlike many others – do likely not represent people’s beliefs.

    The results for even such highly specific things as the banker conspiracy rather point at people being asked and then making a quick answer devoid of much thinking. The results don’t show what people think, but but what they respond without thinking.
    It’s more akin to a hurried word association tests than to an interview.

    Maybe it would be better to ask the question on one day and return the next day to receive the answer.

    Or one could sacrifice the holy cow of standardised questionnaires and simply interview the people, trying to make them say what they think instead of yes / no / not sure.

    1. SO,

      That is an interesting attempt at defense of the GOP, but explains neither the differences among the results for various questions — they did not all have similar results — or the differences by party.

      The just making up theories does not tells us anything, by itself.

      In the absence of known factors to explain these answers, I suspect most people will go with Occam’s Razor and assume that people’s responses in aggregate are representative of their actual beliefs. More or less.

    2. When an awfully specific question about a conspiracy theory is asked where the people most likely didn’t hear about the specific conspiracy theory before and a tribe answers with “27% yes”, then the poll is actually uncovering what’s plausible to the tribe, not what the tribe believes or thinks.

      A plausibility check blows up the prejudice that this poll reveals opinion.

    3. SO,

      As I said, your explanation is clearly false. You are judging the survey only by questions listed here. Many of the conspiracy questions received low fraction of “yes” by both parties. The variation in answers suggests that they are meaningful.

    4. How is that evidence I’m wrong?

      The different results for different conspiracy theory questions fit very well to what I wrote:

      “(…) the poll is actually uncovering what’s plausible to the tribe (…)”

      There’s nothing in it demanding similar results for every conspiracy theory question – quite the opposite. My quote offers an interpretation for the different results.

    5. “asked where the people most likely didn’t hear about the specific conspiracy theory before”

      This is the “Just so story” mode of analysis, named after Kipling’s charming children’s tales. Like “How the elephant got his trunk”.

      It is not my preferred mode of analysis. But each to his own.

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