Conspiracy theorists like former Minn. Gov. Jesse Ventura and InfoWar’s Alex Jones have created a media frenzy in recent years — and the results of a new survey by Public Policy Polling could explain why.
The Conspiracy Theory Poll results highlights the effects of inaccurate information ranging from the killing of Osama bin Laden to common misconception of the GOP and Democratic political agendas. The survey uncovered that, even when dealing with conspiracy theories, political polarization comes into play. And when an idea is perpetuated in the media, it takes holds in the minds of Americans.
“Even crazy conspiracy theories are subject to partisan polarization, especially when there are political overtones involved,” Public Policy Polling President Dean Debnam said in a press release. “But most Americans reject the whackier ideas out there about fake moon landings and shape-shifting lizards.”
Media perpetuates fringe ideology
Americans are, however, skeptical of their government, especially when they’re tasked with taking its word. In the case of Osama bin Laden’s death, six percent of Americans believe he’s still alive — a theory that has been spread by skeptics who lobbied for the release of his photos.
Conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the release of his photos. It later turned around and sued the agency when access was denied on grounds of national security.
The lawsuit and Freedom of Information Act request was highlighted in mainstream media, including by Fox News, which gave voice to the issue, inviting Judicial Watch President Fitton to appear on its news segment to discuss the court battle.
Another conspiracy theory still believed by 28 percent of Americans is that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks. That percentage increases among Romney supporters, with 36 percent believing Hussein was behind 9/11.
Eric Bolling, co-host for Fox News segment, “The Five,” still claims the U.S. invaded Iraq because Hussein financed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2008, Congressman Tim Walberg also claimed Hussein to be behind the attacks.
According to Media Matters, a poll taken six months after the Iraq invasion indicated 70 percent of Americans wrongly believed Hussein was involved in 9/11 — a claim that was used by the Bush Administration in the lead-up to the war.
Global warming: Big Oil is winning
The most polarizing issue presented on the survey was whether respondents believed global warming is a hoax. Of those who responded, 51 percent did not believe it to be a hoax, while 37 percent did — 12 percent were not sure.
Split along party lines, Republicans believed it to be a hoax by a margin of 58-25, compared with Democrats’ 11-17. What’s even more alarming for environmentalists is the response among those who favored Romney in the last election — 61 percent belonging to that category do not believe in global warming.
While disappointing to the environmental community, it’s not entirely surprising. In February, Greenpeace released a report indicating the oil industry has funneled $146 million into anti-climate change research.
“Since the 1990s, Greenpeace has tracked and exposed the funding to climate denial front groups from big oil donors, including ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers foundations,” Greenpeace said in a statement. “As these funding connections have been revealed, the publicly traceable funding to these groups has slowly declined, while the overall revenue and budgets of these groups has increased in many cases.”
The results for global warming viewpoints comes just a few years after a Public Policy Polling survey that indicated 9 percent of voters agreed with right wing commentator Rush Limbaugh that environmentalists were responsible for the BP Gulf oil spill to halt offshore drilling.
The conspiracy behind a New World Order, an opinion of InfoWars’ host Alex Jones is another polarizing topic. According to the poll, 28 percent of Americans believe there is a “secretive power elite with a globalist agenda” conspiring to rule a one-world government.
A story regarding the New World Order was posted on Jones’s site as recently as Jan. 29, in which he alleges Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel literally meant what he said when he told President Barack Obama, “We are at a time where there is a new world order. We don’t control it. You must question everything, every assumption, everything they tell you.”
Jones was referring to a Washington Post article written by Bob Woodward, who went on to include Hagel’s comments as referring to the war in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan will be defining for your presidency in the first term,” Hagel told the president, according to recollection of his dialogue, “perhaps even for a second term.” Woodward indicates the key to his message was to not get bogged down.