QAnon Supporters Aren’t Quite Who You Think They Are

Q fever, we’re told, is sweeping the nation. Polls show that some 7 percent of Americans believe in or support QAnon, the cultish conspiracy theory and community that originated in online message boards in late 2017. Other fringe ideas draw wider support, but few are as bizarre or alarming. QAnon defies easy summary, but its core premise is that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against a cabal of celebrities and Democratic politicians who abuse children in Satanic rituals. In one lurid variation, Hollywood stars harvest the chemical adrenochrome from children’s bodies. According to Q, the anonymous poster who started the movement, the Mueller investigation was a false-flag operation, ordered by Trump, to investigate these sex criminals. In a prophesied event called “the storm,” Trump will strike against them with mass arrests and possibly executions.

The rise of a community committed to such outré notions has drawn extensive media coverage, much of which seems animated by a simple question: How can so many people believe such crazy stuff?

New research provides a partial answer: They don’t. Until now, polling on QAnon has generally gone no further than asking people how they feel about the movement. This left unexplored what it actually means when someone says they believe in QAnon. Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts University, recently sought to find out. In September, he conducted a nationally representative online poll asking respondents not just whether they support QAnon, but also whether they believe in eight specific false claims, including four that are central to the QAnon worldview. The poll was funded by Luminate and published by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. The results suggest that most “QAnon supporters” have never even heard of, let alone believe, some of the most outrageous claims associated with it.When it comes to general support for QAnon, Schaffner’s findings track those of other polls. Seven percent of respondents said they had a very or somewhat favorable impression of QAnon; the same number said they trusted QAnon to provide accurate information always or most of the time. (Sixty percent of people said they’d never heard of it.) When Schaffner drilled into that 7 percent, things got more interesting.
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The WIRED Guide to Online Conspiracy Theories

Everything you need to know about George Soros, Pizzagate, and the Berenstain Bears.As you’d expect, QAnon supporters are much likelier to believe false conspiracy theories than everyone else, whether Q-specific or not. But while you might also expect the overwhelming majority of the QAnon group to uniformly embrace its core theories, the results were far more mixed. The highest-polling statement was “Democratic politicians and Hollywood stars are part of a global network that tortures and sexually abuses children in Satanic rituals”—62 percent of QAnon supporters rated it as definitely or probably true. The other three QAnon theories polled—Trump is preparing mass arrests, Mueller was secretly ordered by Trump to investigate pedophiles, and celebrities harvest adrenochrome from children—registered between 44 and 54 percent.
Those numbers, however, heavily overstate the level of belief. Toward the end of the poll, Schaffner asked respondents which statements they had heard of before taking the survey. A large number of Qanon supporters, it turned out, were rating as “true” statements that they were encountering for the first time. The “global network” statement only polled at 38 percent when discounting people who had never heard it. For the “Trump is preparing mass arrests” claim, which is generally described as the foundational QAnon belief, only 26 percent both had heard of it and said it was true. Recall that these are percentages of a percent. Thirty-eight percent of 7 percent translates to only 2.6 percent of the overall population.