Do Conspiracy Beliefs Form a Belief System? Examining the Structure and Organization of Conspiracy Beliefs


  • Adam M. Enders
  • Joseph E. Uscinski
  • Casey A. Klofstad
  • Michelle I. Seelig
  • Stefan Wuchty
  • Manohar N. Murthi
  • Kamal Premaratne
  • John R. Funchion


Despite regular reference to conspiracy theories as a “belief system,” few studies have attempted to explore the structure and organization of conspiracy beliefs beyond an examination of correlations between those beliefs. Employing unique data from two national surveys that includes respondent beliefs in 27 conspiracy theories, we decipher the substantive dimensions along which conspiracy beliefs are organized, as well as subgroupings within those dimensions. We find that variation in these conspiracy beliefs can be accounted for with two dimensions: the first regards partisan and ideological identities, while the other is composed of anti-social orientations, such as narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and acceptance of political violence. Importantly, these two dimensions are uncorrelated. We also find that conspiracy beliefs group together by substantive content, such as those regarding partisan actors or science/medicine. Our findings also demonstrate that inferences about the correlates of conspiracy beliefs are highly contingent on the specific conspiracy theories employed by researchers. We provide suggestions for future research in this vein.