About one in five Americans mostly agree with ideas consistent with the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute. That’s an increase from one in seven since last year.
One such idea, believed by 17 percent of respondents, is that the U.S. is controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation.
“This is the kind of disordered thinking that we associate with unstable societies,” said Mona Charen, a former Republican speechwriter and columnist who now serves as an editor of the Bulwark, a conservative news and analysis website.
Charen spoke on Oct. 27, at an event unveiling the latest edition of the Public Religion Research Institute’s annual American Values Survey.
This revelation about growing acceptance of the conspiracy comes ahead of midterm elections including several candidates who have espoused QAnon conspiracies. More than a dozen candidates for congressional and statewide offices who have supported the conspiracy will appear on general election ballots, according to an analysis by Grid News. If elected, those candidates could strengthen the foothold of this conspiracy and others in American politics.
The American Values Survey gauges Americans’ opinions on a series of prominent political, social, and cultural issues. This year’s survey was conducted in early September.
Who believes in QAnon?
The 2021 survey revealed that 14 percent of Americans mostly agreed with the core tenets of the QAnon conspiracy theory. This year, that number jumped to 19 percent.
The survey measured belief in QAnon by asking about respondents’ agreement with three statements: “The government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation;” “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders;” and “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
“Respondents did not have to agree with all three items in order to fall into the ‘believer’ category,” Natalie Jackson, PRRI’s director of research told Sojourners. “We scaled the items so that, for example, someone who completely agrees with two of the three, but somewhat disagrees with one, would be a believer.”
Survey respondents who mostly disagreed with the statements were labeled QAnon doubters. Respondents who completely disagreed with all three were labeled QAnon rejecters.
“Even as I stare at the numbers, I have trouble assimilating this,” Charen said. “A significant share of our fellow citizens are not just angry or alienated, dissatisfied, sour. They are unhinged.”
QAnon belief is most closely associated with trust in far-Right news outlets, though political affiliation, religion, and education also have strong correlations with belief in the conspiracy.
Religion’s relationship with QAnon belief
All religious groups identified in the survey, except for white Catholics, had higher levels of belief in QAnon than religiously unaffiliated Americans. For some groups, that could be attributed to high levels of Republican partisanship.
Some 27 percent of Republicans respondents expressed belief in the QAnon conspiracy as compared to 8 percent of Democrats. Those numbers have changed little since last year.
But partisanship likely does not explain the phenomenon entirely. Even non-Christian religious Americans, who tend to support Democrats, demonstrated high levels of belief in the core ideas of QAnon.
The survey did not directly ask respondents about QAnon by name; the researchers instead tried to gauge Americans’ belief in the conspiracy’s central ideas, regardless of whether the respondents associated the ideas with “QAnon.”
Surveys that directly ask about QAnon by name have shown declining support for the conspiracy. According to survey data from Civiqs, an online polling and analytics company, support for the theory among Americans has declined from 7 percent two years ago to 3 percent now.
The Public Religion Research Institute survey also present mixed views on former President Donald Trump’s favorability among Americans.
The survey asked about the impact of the House January 6 committee’s hearings on Trump’s favorability. About a third of respondents said their view of the former president became less favorable.
However, when asked about Trump in another question that did not reference the January 6 hearings, respondents expressed stable views of the former president. The percentage of people with a favorable view of him was 35 percent. That number has not changed significantly since last year.
Split views on American progress
The survey did find some common ground among Americans. The vast majority of survey participants said they believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. However, they were split on whether the country’s best days are ahead or behind.
Nearly half said they believe the country’s culture and way of life have gotten worse since the 1950s. Two-thirds of Republicans said things have gotten worse, whereas less than one-third of Democrats thought so.
Robert P. Jones, the founder of PRRI and the survey’s lead researcher, said at the event Thursday that he was disheartened by this year’s findings.
“I’m still continually struck by how — by party, by race, by religion — we are in many ways factions and worlds apart,” he said.
The full survey results are available on PRRI’s website.