FDU Poll: 2020 Election Conspiracies More Likely to Embrace Bigfoot, Flat Earth

Bedlam at the U.S. Capitol.

Many Americans believe that the Donald Trump really won the 2020 US Presidential election, and those same people are much more likely than other Americans to endorse other unsubstantiated beliefs, even ones as wild as the existence of Bigfoot, or that the Earth is flat. According to the latest Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll, 22 percent of Americans say that Bigfoot is at least somewhat likely to be real, and 11 percent say that the Earth might be flat, but those figures are higher among those Americans who believe that the 2020 election was stolen. Perhaps more importantly, this isn’t just about some people being credulous: asking about the discredited belief that the 2020 election was stolen makes Republicans more likely to think that such wild ideas are actually true.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll has long asked Americans about conspiracy theories, but none of those theories have been as accepted as the belief that there was a massive conspiracy involving Republican and Democratic elected officials to steal the 2020 US Presidential election. Forty percent of Americans think it is “somewhat” or “very” likely that Trump actually won the 2020 election, including 72 percent of Republicans.

Rather than delve into what leads people to hold this belief, the poll looked at how thinking that the 2020 US Presidential election was stolen leads people to other beliefs. The set of beliefs and practices that lead people to ignore evidence and doubt experts in favor of dubious claims about the 2020 election could easily lead them to embrace other false claims.

In the survey, Americans were asked about a number of statements that experts have said are false. For half of the respondents, this series began with a question about whether former President Trump really won the 2020 election. The other half received one of the other items, randomly selected, first. Americans who believe that the 2020 election was stolen are more likely to say that the other false beliefs mentioned were likely to be true. In addition, Republicans who were first asked about the 2020 election were more likely to endorse many of the other false theories.

“Conspiracy thinking is a mindset and believing that the 2020 election was stolen requires that you move away from listening to neutral experts and paying attention to evidence,” said Dan Cassino, a political psychologist at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the Director of the Poll. “It turns out that once you’re in that mindset, you’re more likely to believe just about anything.”

For instance, Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to believe that creatures known as Bigfoot or Sasquatch exist in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Twenty percent of Democrats say that it’s “somewhat” or “very” likely to be true, compared with 19 percent of Republicans (and 22 percent of Americans overall). Younger Americans are much more likely than older ones to believe that it’s true.

Those Americans who think it’s “very likely” that the 2020 election was stolen are 7 points more likely to believe in Bigfoot than those that don’t (21 percent versus 28 percent) but it’s not just because they’re more credulous in general. When the series about conspiracy beliefs starts with the question about the 2020 election, Republicans are 6 points more likely (23 percent versus 17 percent) to say that Bigfoot is “somewhat” or “very” likely real. There is no significant effect of this ordering among Democrats.

“Even the wildest theories about the 2020 election don’t include Bigfoot,” said Cassino. “But people are really trying to be consistent, and so endorsing one set of false beliefs makes them more likely to endorse another, even if it’s pretty far out there.”

The same pattern holds even for the bizarre belief that the Earth is actually flat. About 11 percent of Americans believe that this is “somewhat” or “very” likely to be true, but that figure includes 17 percent of those who think that the 2020 election was stolen (as opposed to 9 percent who don’t think that was “very likely”). When Republicans are first asked about 2020, though, 13 percent of them say that the Earth is “somewhat” or “very” likely to be flat, compared to nine percent otherwise.

The belief that the Earth is flat has its roots in some literal readings of the Bible popular among Evangelical Christians, but it has largely spread through many of the same vectors as the belief that Trump won the 2020 US Presidential election, like internet postings and sites like YouTube. While explanations vary, most flat earth believers posit that the Earth is surrounded by an ice wall that prevents individuals from seeing the edge of the planet, and that world governments have been keeping this information from the public for hundreds of years.

“People believing that the Earth might be flat sounds like a punchline,” said Cassino. “But the fact that so many people are embracing a conspiracy mindset that can push them that far is really upsetting for anyone hoping that facts will eventually win out.”

Of course, not all false beliefs are quite so absurd. While the idea that childhood vaccines cause autism has been widely debunked, 28 percent of Americans think it is “somewhat” or “very” likely to be true, with more Republicans (37 percent) holding the belief than Democrats (19 percent). But even this belief is much more common among those who think that the 2020 election was “very likely” stolen (48 percent) than those who don’t (21 percent).

On this question, asking about the 2020 election first makes Democrats less likely (16 percent, versus 25 percent) to say that it’s likely to be true, but doesn’t push Republican responses significantly (a 4-point increase, from 35 to 39 percent).

The pattern holds even for the highly politicized question about whether COVID-19 was created in a lab. Thirty-seven percent of Americans say that this is “very likely” to be true, with another 26 percent saying that it is “somewhat” likely. Almost 90 percent of Republicans (89 percent) say that it is “somewhat” or “very” likely to be true, compared with 42 percent of Democrats. Americans who say that the 2020 election was stolen are much more likely to think that COVID was created in a lab: 88 percent who say that Trump really won in 2020 also say that COVID was made in a lab, compared with 55 percent among those who don’t think that the election as stolen.

However, asking people about the 2020 US Presidential election first does not lead them to be more likely to say that COVID was created in a lab.

“Making people think about conspiracies regarding the 2020 election doesn’t make people more likely to think that COVID came from a lab,” said Cassino. “Most likely because the people prone to think that are saying it’s true already.”

Reliable national polling about beliefs as absurd as these is rare, but these results demonstrate that it is necessary to find out what Americans really believe.

“We think of misinformation as a political problem, but it’s much more than that,” said Cassino. “It might be useful for political leaders to have people believe things that aren’t true, but that spreads far beyond politics, and we wind up with people thinking that they could fall off the edge of the planet.”

 

Methodology

The survey was conducted between April 24 and April 29, 2022, using a certified list of adult US residents nationwide. Respondents were randomly chosen from the list, and contacted via either live-caller telephone interviews or text-to-web surveys sent to cellular phones, resulting in an overall sample of 1,021 respondents. 174 of the surveys were carried out via the TTW platform, 196 of the interviews were carried out via landline telephones, and the remainder (697) were done on cellular phones. Surveys were conducted only in English.

The data were weighted to be representative of the population of adult US residents, as of the 2020 US Census. The weights used, like all weights, balance the demographic characteristics of the sample to match known population parameters. The weighted results used here are balanced to match parameters for sex, age, education and race/ethnicity.

SPSSINC RAKE, an SPSS extension module that simultaneously balances the distributions of all variables using the GENLOG procedure, was used to produce final weights. Weights were trimmed to prevent individual interviews from having too much influence on the final results. The use of these weights in statistical analysis helps to ensure that the demographic characteristics of the sample approximate the demographic characteristics of the target population. The size of these weights is used to construct the measure of design effects, which indicate the extent to which the reported results are being driven by the weights applied to the data, rather than found in the data itself. Simply put, these design effects tell us how many additional respondents would have been needed to get the weighted number of respondents across weighted categories: larger design effects indicate greater levels of under-representation in the data. In this case, calculated design effects are approximately 1.25.

All surveys are subject to sampling error, which is the expected probable difference between interviewing everyone in a population versus a scientific sampling drawn from that population. Sampling error should be adjusted to recognize the effect of weighting the data to better match the population. In this poll, the simple sampling error for 1,021 registered voters is +/-3.1 percentage points, at a 95 percent confidence interval. Including the design effects, the margin of error would be +/-3.9 percentage points, though the figure not including them is much more commonly reported.

This error calculation does not take into account other sources of variation inherent in public opinion studies, such as non-response, question-wording, differences in translated forms, or context effects. While such errors are known to exist, they are often unquantifiable within a particular survey, and all efforts, such as randomization and extensive pre-testing of items, have been used to minimize them.

Weighted Telephone Sample Characteristics

802 Registered Voters Nationally

Figures are weighted to overall voter characteristics from previous gubernatorial elections. Respondents who refused to answer a demographic item are not included.

 

Man

43%                 N = 461

Woman

54%                 N = 578

Some Other Way

2%                  N = 17

 

18-30

26%           N = 281

31-44

31%                 N = 335

45-64

26%                 N = 273

65+

16%                 N = 169

 

Democrat (with leaners)

45%                 N = 388

Independent

16%                 N = 139

Republican (with leaners)

38%                 N = 322

 

White

50%           N = 538

Black

14%           N = 144

Hispanic/Latino/a

18%           N = 197

Asian

7%           N = 78

Other/Multi-racial

8%           N = 84

 

No college degree

53%           N = 567

College degree or more

45%           N = 483

 

Question Wording and Order

In recent years, there has been an increase in the willingness of Americans to do research and draw their own conclusions about important topics.

I’m going to read you a list of statements [that scientists, government officials and other experts say are false]/[that have been made in popular websites]. For each, tell me if you think that the statement is…

[Wording is randomly assigned]

 

Not At All Likely to be true

Not Very Likely to be true

Somewhat Likely to be true

Very Likely to be true

Don’t Know/Refused [Vol]

 

[Item order is shuffled, half of the respondents get C1 first; the other half get a different item, randomly selected, first]

 

C1. Donald Trump really won the 2020 US Presidential election.

C2. Childhood vaccines cause autism.

C3. [Held for later release]

C4. Creatures known as “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” exist in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.

C5. The Earth is actually flat

C6. COVID-19 was made in a lab

 

Release Tables

 

Creatures known as “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” exist in the woods of the Pacific Northwest
All
Men
Women
Not at all likely to be true
46%
54%
37%
Not very likely to be true
23%
25%
23%
Somewhat likely to be true
15%
11%
20%
Very likely to be true
7%
7%
7%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
8%
3%
13%

 

Creatures known as “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” exist in the woods of the Pacific Northwest
Under 30
31 to 44
45 to 64
65+
Not at all likely to be true
37%
46%
55%
41%
Not very likely to be true
21%
22%
25%
30%
Somewhat likely to be true
25%
13%
10%
15%
Very likely to be true
9%
7%
4%
7%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
10%
11%
5%
7%

 

The Earth is actually flat
All
Men
Women
Not at all likely to be true
76%
85%
65%
Not very likely to be true
11%
7%
15%
Somewhat likely to be true
6%
4%
7%
Very likely to be true
5%
1%
7%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
3%
2%
7%

 

The Earth is actually flat
Under 30
31 to 44
45 to 64
65+
Not at all likely to be true
63%
72%
84%
82%
Not very likely to be true
16%
11%
7%
9%
Somewhat likely to be true
9%
7%
3%
4%
Very likely to be true
6%
4%
4%
2%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
5%
7%
2%
4%

 

Donald Trump really won the 2020 U.S. Presidential election
All
Dem
Indp
Rep
Not at all likely to be true
43%
70%
39%
14%
Not very likely to be true
13%
13%
14%
12%
Somewhat likely to be true
17%
7%
21%
26%
Very likely to be true
23%
7%
18%
46%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
3%
3%
8%
2%

 

Creatures known as “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” exist in the woods of the Pacific Northwest
All
Dem
Indp
Rep
Not at all likely to be true
46%
48%
30%
51%
Not very likely to be true
23%
22%
25%
24%
Somewhat likely to be true
15%
14%
22%
14%
Very likely to be true
7%
6%
13%
5%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
8%
10%
10%
6%

 

Creatures known as “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” exist in the woods of the Pacific Northwest
Rep – 2020 wasn’t stolen
Rep – 2020 was stolen
All – 2020 wasn’t stolen
All – 2020 was stolen
Not at all likely to be true
57%
45%
49%
38%
Not very likely to be true
23%
24%
23%
25%
Somewhat likely to be true
14%
15%
15%
17%
Very likely to be true
3%
7%
6%
11%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
3%
8%
8%
10%

 

Creatures known as “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” exist in the woods of the Pacific Northwest
Rep – Random Order
Rep – Trump First
Dem – Random Order
Dem – Trump First
Not at all likely to be true
52%
51%
53%
43%
Not very likely to be true
25%
22%
19%
25%
Somewhat likely to be true
13%
16%
13%
15%
Very likely to be true
4%
7%
5%
7%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
7%
5%
11%
10%

 

The Earth is actually flat
Under 30
31 to 44
45 to 64
65+
Not at all likely to be true
63%
72%
84%
82%
Not very likely to be true
16%
11%
7%
9%
Somewhat likely to be true
9%
7%
3%
4%
Very likely to be true
6%
4%
4%
2%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
5%
7%
2%
4%

 

The Earth is actually flat
Rep – 2020 wasn’t stolen
Rep – 2020 was stolen
All – 2020 wasn’t stolen
All – 2020 was stolen
Not at all likely to be true
85%
73%
78%
69%
Not very likely to be true
6%
13%
10%
13%
Somewhat likely to be true
4%
5%
5%
9%
Very likely to be true
5%
7%
4%
8%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
2%
4%
2%

 

The Earth is actually flat
Rep – Random Order
Rep – Trump First
Dem – Random Order
Dem – Trump First
Not at all likely to be true
79%
79%
71%
74%
Not very likely to be true
11%
7%
15%
10%
Somewhat likely to be true
2%
8%
6%
9%
Very likely to be true
7%
5%
7%
2%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
1%
1%
1%
6%

 

Childhood Vaccines Cause Autism
All
Dem
Indp
Rep
Not at all likely to be true
39%
54%
32%
24%
Not very likely to be true
19%
15%
24%
22%
Somewhat likely to be true
19%
13%
17%
25%
Very likely to be true
9%
6%
10%
12%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
14%
11%
16%
16%

 

Childhood Vaccines Cause Autism
Rep – Random Order
Rep – Trump First
Dem – Random Order
Dem – Trump First
Not at all likely to be true
26%
22%
50%
58%
Not very likely to be true
24%
20%
15%
15%
Somewhat likely to be true
25%
26%
17%
11%
Very likely to be true
10%
13%
8%
5%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
15%
18%
11%
12%

 

Childhood Vaccines Cause Autism
Rep – 2020 wasn’t stolen
Rep – 2020 was stolen
All – 2020 wasn’t stolen
All – 2020 was stolen
Not at all likely to be true
30%
18%
46%
17%
Not very likely to be true
27%
16%
20%
18%
Somewhat likely to be true
22%
30%
15%
30%
Very likely to be true
7%
18%
6%
18%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
14%
18%
13%
18%

 

COVID-19 was created in a lab.
All
Dem
Indp
Rep
Not at all likely to be true
18%
30%
14%
4%
Not very likely to be true
15%
21%
17%
6%
Somewhat likely to be true
26%
25%
25%
27%
Very likely to be true
37%
17%
36%
62%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
5%
6%
8%
2%

 

COVID-19 was created in a lab.
Rep – 2020 wasn’t stolen
Rep – 2020 was stolen
All – 2020 wasn’t stolen
All – 2020 was stolen
Not at all likely to be true
7%
1%
22%
4%
Not very likely to be true
6%
5%
18%
5%
Somewhat likely to be true
33%
19%
26%
24%
Very likely to be true
52%
74%
29%
64%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
2%
1%
5%
4%

 

COVID-19 was created in a lab.
Rep – Random Order
Rep – Trump First
Dem – Random Order
Dem – Trump First
Not at all likely to be true
4%
5%
32%
28%
Not very likely to be true
5%
6%
18%
24%
Somewhat likely to be true
30%
23%
25%
26%
Very likely to be true
60%
64%
19%
16%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused
1%
2%
6%
7%

 

 

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One response to “FDU Poll: 2020 Election Conspiracies More Likely to Embrace Bigfoot, Flat Earth”

  1. I think a lot of the problem with anyone believing in conspiracy theories has more to do with their lack of faith in the “experts” than anything else. So It isn’t a matter of “I totally believe’ as much as it’s “no one is trustworthy enough to disprove it to me.”

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