What Americans ‘Believe’

NH, Nov 1999 (AS)Here’s the Guardian in full “wacky Americans” mode:

About one in four Americans suspect that President Barack Obama might be the antichrist, more than a third believe that global warming is a hoax and more than half suspect that a secretive global elite is trying to set up a New World Order, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

The survey, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling, asked a sample of American voters about a number of conspiracy theories, phrasing the questions in eye-catching language that will have the country’s educators banging their heads on their desks. The study revealed that 13% of respondents thought Obama was “the antichrist”, while another 13% were “not sure” – and so were at least appeared to be open to the possibility that he might be. Some 73% of people were able to say outright that they did not think Obama was “the antichrist”.

The survey also showed that 37% of Americans thought that global warming was a hoax, while 12% were not sure and a slim majority – 51% – agreed with the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment and thought that it was not. The survey also revealed that 28% of people believed in a sinister global New World Order conspiracy, aimed at ruling the whole world through authoritarian government. Another 25% were “not sure” and only a minority of American voters – 46% – thought such a conspiracy theory was not true…

The Guardian being the Guardian, the questions the paper highlights are those that make the (presumed) right look nuts. It goes unmentioned that 14 percent of Americans apparently believe that believe the CIA was instrumental in distributing crack cocaine into America’s inner cities in the 1980s – and that another 30 percent are “not sure” about this dastardly plot.

More broadly, however, I always wonder whether people truly believe what they say they do in response to questions in surveys such as this. If as many as a quarter of all Americans really think that Obama is (or could be) the antichrist, wouldn’t they make a little more noise about it?

As for global warming, it’s impossible not to note the way that the writer goes to such pains to assert his own orthodoxy with additional commentary (“the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment”) that has no equivalent elsewhere in the piece, suggesting just a little defensiveness, something that might not be entirely inappropriate at a time when even the AGW true believers at the Economist can write this:

It is not clear why climate change has “plateaued” (see article). It could be because of greater natural variability in the climate, because clouds dampen warming or because of some other little-understood mechanism in the almost infinitely complex climate system.

Now, as I have written before, I am, to use that loaded term, no ‘denier’ (as conventionally understood, at least: I just believe that some of the AGW faithful need to ponder the implications of those words “infinitely complex” with a little more care). I certainly don’t think that AGW is a “hoax”, as that word is conventionally understood. That said, my guess would be that many of those who used that term were merely using it as a way to express their all too understandable suspicion that “global warming” has, for some, become something of a racket, based on a “consensus” that is not quite so soundly based as the public is usually told.

And then we come to the ”sinister” global conspiracy. The Guardian’s writer spiced up the actual question (adding that adjective, and removing the qualifier that the plan was to take over the planet “eventually”) which was as follows:

Do you believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order, or not?

That’s something of a stretch, to put it mildly, but read another way, there is plenty of truth to the idea that a supra-nationalist class is moving away from the idea of sovereign national democracy, and replacing it with regimes and treaties that are, if not authoritarian, certainly post-democratic. The EU is the most notorious example, but some of what the UN has been aiming at, whether it be with regard to climate change, the control of narcotics and, recently, firearms could be seen that way too. It’s melodramatic to describe this as a conspiracy (and much of it is being done in plain sight), but it is a reality, and it’s not too hard to imagine those who disapprove of it, wishing to register their discontent by labeling it with language more normally used for dark intrigue and shadowy cabal.

Then again, some people are just nuts. Take a look at the full survey. It’s a good read…

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3 Responses to What Americans ‘Believe’

  1. John says:

    “Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian
    people control our world by taking on human
    form and gaining political power to manipulate
    our societies, or not?”

    Well, I liked “V”, too. I didn’t know it was a documentary.

  2. Slon says:

    “14 percent of Americans apparently believe that believe the CIA was instrumental in distributing crack cocaine into America’s inner cities in the 1980s – and that another 30 percent are “not sure” about this dastardly plot.”

    You haven’t heard of Iran-Contra?? Some wacky conspiracy theories are now in public record.

  3. cynthia curran says:

    Well, actually conservatives looked great in 1970 when the so-called most conservative counties were like Orange County Ca and San Diego. High income, low poverty and even lower than average out of wedlock births, the pushed on the social issues took a trend to the South which because of high black populations and rural areas met low income, higher poverty and higher out of wedlock births. In fact, the Right in 1970 could say elect Ronald Reagan and your county could look like Orange County and San Diego with only 6.6 percent poverty and a strong defense industry. Fastforward and you can look like Houston Tx, high poverty and low income in the inner city and high out of wedlock births, 41 percent hispanic and 18 percent black but high income and low poverty in the more wealthy white burbs with some asian population like Fort Bend. Now you see why the Republican Party only can do the south but the movement grew in the 1980’s which Reagan was able to beat Carter because of the OC and Sd vision.

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