Are losers gullible? A new test of ideological asymmetry in conspiracy beliefs

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Principal investigator:

Timothy Ryan

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill



Sample size: 2060

Field period: 09/08/2017-04/25/2018

Recent political events have galvanized interest in the promulgation of misinformation—particularly false rumors about political opponents. An array of studies provide reasons to think that harboring false political beliefs is a disproportionately conservative phenomenon, since citizens with affinity for the political right endorse more false information than people with affinity for the left. However, as we discuss below, past research is limited in its ability to distinguish supply-side explanations for this result (false information is spread more effectively by elites on the right) from demand-side explanations (citizens who sympathize with the right are more likely to believe false information upon receipt). We conduct an experiment on a representative sample of Americans designed specifically to reveal asymmetries in citizens' proclivity to endorse false damaging information about political opponents. In a contrast with previous results, we find citizens on the left and right are equally likely to endorse false political information.

Are either liberals or conservatives more likely to believe scandalous false information about political opponents?

Experimental Manipulations
Participants evaluate the credibility of two fictional political rumors. The target of the rumors is manipulated (within-subjects, and counterbalanced) to be either Republicans or Democrats.

The outcome variable is belief in each rumor.

Summary of Results
We find no statistically distinguishable difference between liberals' and conservatives' rumor beliefs.