Last week Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released the results of an opinion poll that grants us some quite frankly shocking insights into what many sincerely believe.
You might perhaps expect Republicans and also evangelicals to tick the “whacky conspiracy theory” box. Discovering that is not the shock here, we all expect it. What is the big surprise was the discovery of who else also ticked that same box.
First, let’s step back for a moment and consider where this poll comes from. A question to consider is if the polling company is respected and accurate. They are. Also worth mulling over is the sample used and how representative it actually is. So let’s first consider these questions.
Who are PRRI?
The Public Religion Research Institute is both a non-profit and also a non-partisan organization that conducts public opinion polls. It was founded in 2014 by Robert P. Jones. He was previously an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Missouri State University
What did PRRI do to conduct this poll, is it a fair representation?
During March 2021 they conducted a survey of 5,149 adults (age 18 and up) living in all 50 states in the United States and who are part of Ipsos’s Knowledge Panel. An additional 476 were also recruited via Ipsos using opt-in survey panels to increase the sample sizes in smaller states. The full sample was weighted to be representative of the U.S. population.
Well yes, topped up via opt-in panel, but for this poll people can’t opt-in. They randomly picked people because they were deemed to be an average representative of public opinion. The opt-in survey panel source was simply a means they used to top up by roughly 10%.
They also attempted to consider all households and not just those that have a phone.
Their margin for error is small, just 1.5% and so they claim a 95% level of confidence that their conclusions accurately represent what people think.
What did they discover?
I have, as I expect you do, specific expectations regarding those who embrace QAnon as “truth”. This poll demolished my expectations.
First, as a quick QAnon primer. I’m assuming you most probably know what QAnon is all about. Very briefly, the traditional view is that it is all about a belief that Satan-worshipping pedophiles are plotting against Trump. They also believe that there is a coming “storm” that would clear out those evil forces. However, it is simply a big-tent for any and every whacky conspiracy theory rolling about these days. That’s not just my stance, see NYT article here for that description.
OK, so on to the details of what this latest PRRI poll reveals.
Shock 1: Politics – Answers split by party for 3 big and utterly bizarre QAnon claims
Within the above, I did expect GOP adherents to tick all three boxes, and yes, many of them did indeed do exactly that. See red bar above.
- What surprised me, and encouraged me, is how low the GOP numbers actually are. It illustrates that the vast majority of Republicans are not certifiable lunatics, only 28% of them are. Well yes, that’s still a big number. It is simply lower than I would have guessed.
- What quite frankly shocked me is the discovery that a good chunk of Democrats, (8%, 14%, and 7% for each question), are also certifiable lunatics, as are many Independents with 14%, 18% and 13%.
Translation: All sides have a good chunk of nutters. The vast majority of all sides are simply not that crazy to go all in on QAnon. We are not actually as divided as you might think we are, and no one side has a monopoly on crazy.
There is of course no avoiding the observation that these numbers are not trivial. Even if it is a minority, it still potentially translates into millions of people.
Not a Shock Point 2 – News Sources
Where people get their news from is closely linked with their embrace of QAnon beliefs.
Well yes, if you digest Fox News, or other far right sources, then this is what happens …
Is anybody really shocked by this?
If people fill their heads with fiction being presented as fact then they end up embracing fiction as truth and dismiss fact as fiction. This here is the core of the problem. Some rather obvious news outlets are literally injecting minds with BS on an epic scale and are not being held accountable for the damage they are inflicting.
Personally I would really love to see that change. How, is perhaps a posting for another day.
Surprise Point 3 – Religion
A traditional view is that it is mainly white evangelicals that are buying into QAnon.
The table below bursts that bubble a bit, Yes, they come out on top, but others are not far behind them.
Quite clearly the vast majority, right across all variations of belief, either seriously doubt QAnon or completely reject it.
Points to note:
- Mormans and also Hispanic Protestants are more or less on par with Evangelicals when it comes to the percentages that embrace QAnon. Yes Mormans, that one really surprised me.
- Almost universally, the percentages that reject QAnon are far bigger than those that embrace it
- The most sane and grounded group is the Jewish community. The vast majority of them reject it and only a tiny sliver, just 2%, embrace it. Clearly as a group they are the smartest cookies in the jar.
Overall, the big encouraging surprise is perhaps the observation that vast numbers of people don’t embrace the QAnon BS. It might not feel like that at times.
Yes, its bad, we are talking about literally millions of people … but … it is not as bad as some, (me), might think it to be.
Key Points to Take Away
- The vast majority are not complete and utter nutters
- Your news source is by far the strongest predictor of QAnon beliefs …
- Those who report trusting far-right media sources are nearly nine times more likely to be QAnon believers compared to those who most trust broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS, and NBC
- There is also a very strong association between QAnon beliefs and other crazy conspiracy beliefs …
- For example, a small segment of Americans (9%) agree that the COVID-19 vaccine contains a surveillance microchip that is the sign of the beast in biblical prophecy. This figure jumps to 39% among QAnon believers.
Well OK, “small” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that last sentence because 9% is rather a lot of people. That’s quite frankly utterly embarrassing. You know in your heart of hearts that those who are seriously worried about microchips in the vaccines are not in any way worried at all about actual microchips. They carry smartphones in their pockets tracking all they do online and keeping tabs on everywhere they go, yet vaccines are supposedly the problem because they contain microchips! That’s a cue for me to hit pause and proceed to vigorously face-palm.