Why So Many Americans Believe Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy Theories

tags: JFK, JFK assassination, Kennedys



Joseph Parent and Joseph Uscinski are both assistant professors of political science at the University of Miami. They are the authors of American Conspiracy Theories, which will be published by Oxford University Press in 2014.

Conspiracy theories are conquering the country, leading us into a dark age of cynicism.  Americans are bombarded by a growing barrage of outlandish tales, aided and abetted by a polarizing media, and amplified by the echo chamber of the Internet.  While all sides indulge in conspiracy theories, Republicans and conservatives are particularly prone to them.  Such inflamed rhetoric divides nations and destroys deliberative democracy.

Actually, there is not much truth in any of the above.  Journalists have been quick to proclaim a “new age of conspiracy theories.” The only problem is that “new age” is typically just a synonym for “now.” For example, see 2011, 2010, 2004, 1994, 1991 and 1964. Fortunately, we have a much better sense of where conspiracy theories come from and why so many people believe them.

Conspiracy theories ignite when motive meets opportunity.  For reasons we mostly attribute to socialization, some individuals tend to see the world more through a conspiratorial lens than others.  We can think of this predisposition as a strong bias against powerful disliked actors that is not caused by partisanship, stupidity or psychopathology.  In fact, people disposed to see conspiracies are just as likely to be Democrats as Republicans, and appear just as likely to be lauded (e.g. Thomas Jefferson) as reviled (e.g. Joseph McCarthy)....



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