Caught in the middle: response dynamics of political partisan conspiracy theories and independent responders
Political party identification has an immense influence on shaping individual attitudes and processes of reasoning to the point where otherwise knowledgeable people endorse political conspiracies that support one's political in-group and simultaneously disparage an out-group. Although recent research has explored this tendency among partisans, less is known about how Independents respond in comparison. Previous research fails to identify the Independent as a unique type of voter, but rather categorizes this group as ostensibly partisan, not a separate phenomenon to investigate. However, most Independents purport neutrality and, by recent polls, are becoming a substantial body worthy of concerted focus. Many questions arise about who Independents really are. For example, do all who identify as Independent behave in a similar manner? Are Independents ideologically different than what is represented by a partisan label? Is the Independent category a broad term for something entirely misunderstood? A thorough investigation into the greater dynamics of the political environment in the United States is an enormous undertaking, requiring a robust interdisciplinary approach beyond the focus and intent of this study. Therefore, this study begins the journey toward understanding these phenomena; do Independents, as a whole, uniformly respond to statements about political conspiracy theories? To explore these possibilities, explicit responses are bypassed to evaluate the implicit appeal of political conspiracy theories. An action dynamics (mouse-tracking) approach, a data rich method that records the response process, demonstrates Independents are not in fact a homogeneous group, but rather seem to fall into two groups: non-partisan leaning and partisan leaning. The analysis exposes that relative to the baseline and control stimuli: (1) Non-leaning Independents reveal an increased susceptibility to implicitly endorse bi-partisan directed conspiracy theories when compared to leaners. (2) Republican-leaners demonstrate a stronger susceptibility to endorse right-wing aligned conspiracy theories (against Barack Obama), similar to Republican partisans. (3) Democrat-leaners, unlike Democrat partisans, do not demonstrate any particular susceptibility to implicitly endorse either right/left-wing aligned conspiracy theories (against Barack Obama or George W. Bush). Drawing from major theories from social, political, and cognitive psychology will contribute to an understanding of these phenomena. Concluding remarks include study limitations and future directions.