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New poll: the QAnon conspiracy movement is very unpopular

- August 30, 2018

The QAnon conspiracy theory has surged into mainstream news these past weeks. Several “Q” supporters wore T-shirts and held signs at a recent Trump rally in Florida. Last week, a prominent promoter of the QAnon theory had his photo taken with President Trump in the White House.

If you haven’t heard of the QAnon theory, you’re not alone. We just conducted a new poll of Floridians and found that a large fraction didn’t have any opinion of the QAnon movement. And among those who did, it was strikingly unpopular.

What is QAnon?

“Q” is supposedly a high-ranking official in the Energy Department with a high-level security clearance. “Q,” the theory goes, is working for Trump and against the supposed “deep state.”

“Q” provides clues to online followers who then attempt to piece together those clues to figure out when Hillary Clinton and her ilk will be arrested for sex trafficking and a host of other unspeakable crimes. There are now many versions of the theory, almost as if it were fan fiction, as it has been passed around and expanded upon in social media.

Many people don’t have an opinion of QAnon

Because Florida is where Q supporters made their presence known at the Trump rally, we surveyed 2,085 Floridians from Aug. 8 to 21 after the news coverage of this rally but before news coverage of the QAnon promoter’s White House visit. Our survey was administered online by Qualtrics and was representative of Florida adults in terms of gender, age, and income. The poll’s questionnaire is here.

In this poll, respondents rated various political figures and organizations on a “feeling thermometer” that ranges from 0 to 100, where higher scores represent more positive views. If a respondent didn’t know one of the names or organizations we provided, they were asked to skip it. This list included the “QAnon movement.” We did not attempt to define this term, preferring to see whether and how people rated it on its own.

Over 40 percent did not rate the QAnon movement at all. Twice as many as skipped rating Fidel Castro or Sen. Bill Nelson, and more than three times as many as skipped rating Trump or Clinton. This shows that despite media coverage of QAnon, a large fraction of people likely have not heard enough about it to have an opinion.

Views of QAnon are very unfavorable

Among those who did have an opinion, most were unfavorable toward the QAnon movement. The average score on the feeling thermometer was just above 20. This is a very negative rating, and about half of what the other political figures in the figure below enjoy. In fact, the only person in our comparison to do worse than the QAnon movement, although not by much, is Fidel Castro. (This is Florida, where people danced in the streets to celebrate the dictator’s demise.)

Interestingly, both Democrats and Republicans had unfavorable feeling thermometer ratings of QAnon; the average among Democrats was 22 and the average among Republicans was 27 (including independents who lean toward a party as partisans). Support for QAnon was similar to Castro, who had low ratings among both parties. By contrast, Republicans and Democrats differed strongly in their opinions of Trump, Clinton, Rubio, Nelson and Scott.

A better predictor of support for QAnon is whether people are prone to conspiracy thinking generally. We asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with these statements: “Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places,” “Even though we live in a democracy, a few people will always run things anyway,” “The people who really ‘run’ the country are not known to the voters,” and “Big events like wars, the recent recession, and the outcomes of elections are controlled by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us.”

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, responses to these questions were strongly correlated with positive views of QAnon, regardless of the survey respondent’s partisan leanings. If we combine these four questions into a single summary measure of conspiracy thinking, a person with the lowest level of conspiracy thinking rated QAnon less than 10, on average. A person with the highest level of conspiracy thinking rated QAnon about 40 — which is still less than favorable but clearly much higher.

It is possible, of course, that opinions might look different outside of Florida. But nevertheless, we suspect that these basic findings would hold. In short, the QAnon movement appears neither well-known nor well-liked by Floridians in either party. Those who support QAnon most strongly are people for whom conspiracies lurk behind every corner.

Joseph E. Uscinski and Casey Klofstad are associate professors of political science in the University of Miami’s College of Arts & Sciences.