How Anti-Social Personality Traits and Anti-Establishment Views Promote Beliefs in Election Fraud, QAnon, and COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories and Misinformation

AuthorAdam Enders,Casey Klofstad,Justin Stoler,Joseph E. Uscinski
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2023, Vol. 51(2) 247259
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X221139434
How Anti-Social Personality Traits and
Anti-Establishment Views Promote Beliefs in
Election Fraud, QAnon, and COVID-19
Conspiracy Theories and Misinformation
Adam Enders
, Casey Klofstad
, Justin Stoler
, and Joseph E. Uscinski
Conspiracy theories and misinformation (CTM) became a salient feature of the Trump era. However, traditional explanations of
political attitudes and behaviors inadequately account for beliefs in CTM or the deleterious behaviors they are associated with.
Here, we integrate disparate literatures to explain beliefs in CTM regarding COVID-19, QAnon, and voter fraud. We aim to
provide a more holistic accounting, and to determine which political, psychological, and social factors are most associated with
such beliefs. Using a unique national survey, we f‌ind that anti-social personality traits, anti-establishment orientations, and
support for Donald Trump are more strongly related to beliefs in CTM than traditional left-right orientations or other
frequently posited factors, such as education, science literacy, and social media use. Our f‌indings encourage resear chers to
move beyond the traditional correlates of political behavior when examining beliefs that express anti-social tendencies or a deep
skepticism of social and political institutions.
Donald Trump, dark triad, conspiracy theory, QAnon, COVID-19
Despite widespread corrective efforts, many Americans
continue to believe conspiracy theories and misinformation
(CTM) related to COVID-19, QAnon, and the 2020 U.S.
election (e.g., Arceneaux & Truex, 2022;Bierwiaczonek
et al., 2022;Enders et al., 2021c). Beliefs in CTM regard-
ing COVID-19 are closely associated with the utilization of
untested medical treatments (Tuccori et al., 2020), vaccine
hesitancy (Romer & Jamieson, 2020), the stockpiling of
weapons (Imhoff & Lamberty, 2020), refusal to socially
distance and mask (Hornik et al., 2021), and numerous id-
iosyncratic instances of violence (Harper, 2021). The same is
true of beliefs in CTM about election fraud and QAnon: these
beliefs are associated with criminal activity (Collins, 2020),
violence (Bump, 2019), and the January 6, 2021 attack on the
U.S. Capitol (Armaly et al., 2022).
We argue that political behavior research, in its focus on
mainstream political elites (Zaller, 1992), mainstream parties
and ideologies (Campbell et al., 1960;Converse, 1964), and
the differences between those parties that promote (or are
promoted by) sorting and polarization (Mason, 2018), cannot
fully account for the aforementioned beliefs in CTM. To be
sure, traditional left-right political orientations play a role in
fomenting tensions and activating non-normative beliefs
(DiMaggio, 2022) and tendencies (Kalmoe & Mason, 2022).
Likewise, partisan motivated reasoning (Miller et al., 2016;
Pasek et al., 2014) and partisan elite cueing (Merkley &
Stecula, 2018;Uscinski et al., 2020) are both key mechanisms
by which some individuals come to believe in CTM––neither
of which is new to our understanding of mass opinion, and
both of which are driven by parties.
That said, to be a traditional partisan or liberal/
conservative, generally, is to be enmeshed in the political
establishment with mainstream beliefs (Enders & Uscinski,
2021b). Traditional conceptions of Republicanism and
conservatism have little to say little about the eff‌icacy of
vaccines, belief in the presence of Satanic baby-eaters among
elected off‌icials, and support for insurrections (Uscinski et al.,
2021). Likewise, past disagreements between parties and
ideologies––even relatively heated ones––have typically not
Political Science, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA
Political Science, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA
Geography and Sustainable Development, University of Miami, Coral
Gables, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Joseph E. Uscinski, Political Science, University of Miami, 1300 Campo Sano
Bldg., Coral Gables, FL 33146, USA.

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