In 2017, I presented a paper on conspiracy thinking and foreign policy views at ISA Conference in Hong Kong. Sadly, I never got around to finish a paper on this, so instead, I'm posting here the slides and results
In this presentation, I looked at the consequences of the belief in conspiracy theories, when it comes to the foreign policy. From the prior research, we know that the individuals who believe in conspiracy theories tend to see authorities as immoral, and that people who believe in them tend to be less politically engaged.
From the study of foreign policy preferences, we also know that people who mistrust their government tend to also be more skeptical of the European Union, and less supportive of the European integration (and critical of their country's foreign policy in general).
In this presentation, I used the ISSP data from Slovakia, collected in 2014 as a part of the large multinational survey.
As is customary, the questionnaire also included questions not asked in other countries. In case of Slovakia, this was a traditional question measuring conspiracy thinking: “There’s a variety of opinions about whether citizens get good information about world events, or whether important facts are hidden from the public. Choose which of the two following statements is closer to you”
The response was captured in a 5-point Likert scale from “World is complicated, but we know the most important facts about main events” to “The reality is different than suggested, world is manipulated by secretive groups according to a secret scenario”.
As you can see below, also in Slovakia were mistrust in government and belief in conspiracy thinking related. Not only there were significantly more people believing in conspiracy theories, these people were also more likely to be distrustful of the government. A simple chi-test confirmed this (X2(4, N=1079)=35.49, p<0.0001).
The cross-tab below shows that only 10% percent of the individuals who believed in conspiracy theories also believed in government - about half as many as among those who do not trust in conspiracy thinking (as you can see, Slovakia is a country where people do not trust the government very much...)
I then proceeded to test whether the belief in conspiracy thinking impacts the views about the foreign policy preferences. I do this, again, with a country-specific question: “In relation to the events in Ukraine and subsequent sanctions, even our society debates the geopolitical alignment of Slovakia, about how we should focus in the world. Do you think Slovakia should:" with responses on a 5-point Likert scale from “Always stand by the West (EU & NATO)” to “Always stand by Russia”. I recoded this into a three-point scale: West / Neutral / Russia. [yes, this survey was a gift that just kept giving]
The results show that even after controlling for many other relevant factors, individuals who believed in conspiracy theories are statistically significantly less likely to support "siding with the West" and more likely to support staying neutral. There is no statistically significant effect on siding with Russia.
I hope one day to find the time and put this in a more coherent writing, because the story is interesting - conspiracy beliefs do not necessarily mean that people are becoming more pro-Russian. However, belief in them does weaken the support for the existing foreign policy direction