There’s just no polite way to put it.
There are big, entire parts of American society that believe in things that just aren’t true – and a recent national survey by Public Policy Polling only confirms it.
Name your conspiracy theory, and some segment of America believes it, the PPP survey found. The handful of news reports and blog posts on the PPP poll last week focused on the usual political subjects that always seem to float through the Internet ether.
About a fifth of Republican voters believe President Barack Obama is the anti-christ, for instance. Three quarters of Democrats believe former President George W. Bush’s administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in the run up to the Iraq war, while three quarters of Republicans don’t. A third of Republicans believe a New World Order is about to take over, while more than a fifth of Democrats believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Despite a consensus among scientists, a significant number of Republican voters don’t believe climate change is real.
“Even crazy conspiracy theories are subject to partisan polarization, especially when there are political overtones involved,” said PPP President Dean Debnam. “But most Americans reject the wackier ideas out there about fake moon landings and shape-shifting lizards.”
Well, maybe. But there were some pretty astounding things in the survey:
– 6 percent of voters (who haven’t, apparently, yet seen “Zero Dark Thirty”) think Osama bin Laden is still alive.
– Despite decades of research that says otherwise, 51 percent of Americans believe there was a conspiracy at work in the JFK assassination.
– Nearly a third of Americans believe aliens exist and are, presumably, visiting Earth, and 25 percent don’t know if it’s true or not – which means that this particular conspiracy theory is mainstream, not part of the fringe of society.
– 5 percent of people believe the real Paul McCartney died and was secretly replaced in the Beatles in 1966.
– 4 percent believe that shape-shifting reptilian people (a staple of Hollywood filmmaking) control the world by taking on human form.
– After decades of films around space travel, 7 percent of Americans still believe the Moon landing was faked.
– Even after nearly the entire scientific community has said otherwise, more than half of Americans still question whether there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism.
– One of the more bizarre findings is this one – 14 percent of people believe the CIA intentionally distributed crack cocaine in America’s inner cities in the 1980s.
– Almost a tenth of Americans, despite thousands of public health research reports to the contrary, believe that fluoride is added to our water supply for sinister reasons.
– 14 percent of people believe in Bigfoot.
– 15 percent believe either the media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals (which might explain some of those otherwise-hard-to-justify Nielsen ratings for certain television shows).
– And 15 percent believe the pharmaceutical industry conspires with physicians and medical communities to invent new diseases simply to make more money.
A few commentators from other parts of the world were comforted by the PPP survey and relieved that so few Americans actually line up behind some of the crazier conspiracy theories.
“Americans aren’t as crazy as we thought,” said one.
Well, again, maybe. But you can also look at some of these results and wonder: Just exactly what are kids learning in school that a significant part of the adult population still believes companies invent diseases just to make money; that you need a tinfoil hat in order to watch TV; or that the CIA distributed crack cocaine in American cities years ago?