Friday, December 4, 2015

Public Opinion Research on Conspiracy Theories in Venezuela

Despite the importance conspiracy claims have acquired in Venezuela’s political discourse, both for the opposition and government but especially as the official rhetoric of the latter, public opinion experts have paid little attention to the study of the use of conspiracy theories in Venezuelan politics.

Several pollsters have included in their surveys questions indirectly related to the beliefs in an “economic war,” sabotages, or alleged plots to kill government officials. DATANALISIS for example found earlier this year that only 9.3% their respondents blamed the private sector for food scarcities while 50% blamed the government. But late last year IVAD, found that an impressive 19.9% of respondents believed it was true that the opposition was planning to assassinate President Maduro. And one of Venezuela’s most important public opinion agencies, HINTERLACES, has fully embraced the government’s conspiratorial rhetoric as part of their explanations (see my most recent posts on this issue here, here, and here.)

John M. Carey, Brenda Nyhan, and Thomas Zeitzoff are, to my knowledge, the first to commission a survey directly asking questions about conspiracy beliefs in Venezuela. Carey has published some of the results of that survey in The Washington Post.

One of the most interesting bits:

We found that belief in conspiracy theories in Venezuela is widespread. Most notably, while key demographic characteristics track only loosely with politics, conspiracy theory beliefs are tightly bound up with Venezuelans’ preferences between the governing chavistas and the opposition. Moreover, the conspiracy beliefs the government has promoted are far less frequently endorsed than one promoted by the opposition — an indicator that the PSUV’s attempts to avert electoral disaster are failing.

What percentage of the population supports government conspiracy theories, or their opposition inspired versions, seems to roughly correlate with general government and opposition support according to recent polls. If the authors are right and “belief in conspiracy theories in Venezuela is widespread,” did people in the last couple of years simply switch the conspiracy theories they believe in line with their political allegiances? 

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