Early COVID-19 Government Communication is Associated with Reduced Interest in the QAnon Conspiracy Theory (2021)

The QAnon conspiracy theory contends, among other things, that COVID-19 is a conspiracyorchestrated by powerful actors and aimed at repressing civil liberties. We hypothesize that, where government risk communication started early, as measured by the number of days between the start of the communication campaign and the first case in the country, citizens are less likely to turn to conspiratorial explanations for the pandemic. In Study 1, we find strong support for our hypothesis in a global sample of 111 countries, using daily Google search volumes for QAnon as a measure of interest in QAnon. The effect is robust to a variety of sensitivity checks. In Study 2, we show that the effect is not explainable by pre-pandemic cross-country differences in interest in QAnon, nor by ‘secular’ rising interest in QAnon amid the pandemic. When evaluated against pre- pandemic levels of interest in QAnon, we find that a one standard deviation (26.2 days) increase in communication lateness predicts a near-tripling (172 percentage points) increase in interest in QAnon (Study 2). In pre-registered Study 3, we find no support for the proposition that early communication reduces self-reported pandemic-related conspiratorial ideation in a sample of respondents from 67 countries. The latter non-result appears to be partially driven by social desirability bias (Study 4). Overall, our results provide evidence that very extreme beliefs like QAnon are highly responsive to government risk communication, while less extreme forms of conspiracism are perhaps less so.

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Chan Ho Fai, Rizio Stephanie M., Skali Ahmed, Torgler Benno