Threat to Democracy? Conspiracy Theories and their Impact on Voting Behavior/DemThreat

Team: Prof. Dr. Reinhard Pollak, Dr. Manuela Blumenberg, Dr. Ina Bieber, Anne-Kathrin Stroppe
Leader: Dr. Ina Bieber
Scientific unit: Monitoring Society and Social Change (DBG)


Pandemics can not only weaken the health of many people and lead to high mortality rates, they can also have a decisive influence on the destabilization and collapse of democracies. According to the findings of various researchers, the Spanish flu in the early 1920s, for example, led to the National Socialists coming to power in Germany, and it has generally been shown that sudden negative shocks and extreme events can have serious negative consequences for democracy.

While previous pandemics primarily threatened democracies with adverse economic effects in the aftermath of the crisis, COVID-19 gives cause for concern about the stability of political systems already in its early stages. Almost as fast as the spread of the actual virus, conspiracy theories started to spread within (on- and offline) networks ranging from the denial of the existence of the pandemic to claiming that the virus was engineered in Chinese laboratories. These beliefs seem to be so contagious that they flourish in the ever-growing protests on the streets where conspiracy theorists are accompanied by anti-vaccination activists and right-wing populists, as well by an increasing amount of people from the middle of society. Despite all their differences, these groups have one thing in common: a dissatisfaction with the current restriction measures related to COVID-19 and the associated criticism of the leadership elite's assumption of power. With this in mind, it is currently not clear whether the conspiracy theories are causing the elitist skepticism or whether they rather act as a catalyst for already existing elitist skepticism and thus add fuel to the fire.

We investigate how the conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 threaten democracy. Our experimental panel design uses a baseline measurement from before the massive spread of COVID-19 and illustrates whether and to what extent certain population groups can be infected by conspiracy theories and thus alter their voting behavior by not voting or voting extremely. As conspiracy theories are currently on the rise, this project is an important contribution to assess the underlying mechanisms and the resulting threats to democracy.



Sponsored by