Political Behavior

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 679–701 | Cite as

Do I Think BLS Data are BS? The Consequences of Conspiracy Theories

  • Katherine Levine EinsteinEmail author
  • David M. Glick
Original Paper


While the willingness of people to believe unfounded and conspiratorial explanations of events is fascinating and troubling, few have addressed the broader impacts of the dissemination of conspiracy claims. We use survey experiments to assess whether realistic exposure to a conspiracy claim affects conspiracy beliefs and trust in government. These experiments yield interesting and potentially surprising results. We discover that respondents who are asked whether they believe in a conspiracy claim after reading a specific allegation actually report lower beliefs than those not exposed to the specific claim. Turning to trust in government, we find that exposure to a conspiracy claim has a potent negative effect on trust in government services and institutions including those unconnected to the allegations. Moreover, and consistent with our belief experiment, we find that first asking whether people believe in the conspiracy mitigates the negative trust effects. Combining these findings suggests that conspiracy exposure increases conspiracy beliefs and reduces trust, but that asking about beliefs prompts additional thinking about the claims which softens and/or reverses the exposure’s effect on beliefs and trust.


Conspiracy theories Trust in government Experiments Misinformation 



They would like to thank Adam Berinsky, Jennifer Hochschild, Doug Kriner, Brendan Nyhan, Dustin Tingley, seminar participants at Dartmouth College, and five anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Supplementary material

11109_2014_9287_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (2.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 2451 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceBoston UniversityBostonUSA

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