Even though Donald Trump no longer is in the White House, featured on the nation’s television screens or Tweeting daily, the QAnon movement — which saw the former president as its de facto leader — is as strong as ever.
Nearly 1 in 6 Americans, or 16%, are “QAnon believers,” according to a poll released Thursday, roughly equal to the 17% found among self-identified U.S. members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The number jumps to 1 in 4 (25%) among the nation’s Republicans.
“Our surveys show that QAnon conspiracy theories are not losing popularity over time, despite their championed leader being out of power,” said Natalie Jackson, director of research at PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute), “... and although 16% seems small, that is around 41 million Americans.”
What is clear from the PRRI survey — titled “The Persistence of QAnon in the Post-Trump Era: An Analysis of Who Believes the Conspiracies” — is that “people who are more likely to believe in the conspiracy theories are those who have a deep distrust of society,” Jackson said. “They wish the country looked different than it does and are trying to find something to explain that.”
That the conspiracy-driven campaign hasn’t declined without Trump doesn’t surprise Matthew Bowman, director of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University, who taught a course on conspiracy theory at the Southern California school.
“For many of these conspiratorial groups, failure of the conspiracy makes those beliefs stronger,” Bowman said. “It forces people to begin justifying their beliefs more thoroughly.”
While QAnon advocates are racially, religiously and politically diverse, the PRRI survey said, “the unifying beliefs are that their way of life is under attack and that they might be willing to resort to violence to defend their vision of the country.”
What makes a person a QAnon devotee?
To be defined as a QAnon believer, a respondent had to generally agree with these three statements:
• “The government, media and financial sector are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation.”
• “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.”
• “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
Though most QAnon believers are white Americans, they are a diverse group religiously.
Around 1 in 4 Hispanic Protestants (27%), white evangelical Protestants (23%), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (23%) are QAnon believers. Some 1 in 5 are other Protestants of color (21%) and Hispanic Catholics (18%).
At 17%, Black Protestants and Buddhists are tied with Latter-day Saints (most U.S. members of the Utah-based faith identify with or lean toward the Republican Party).
Other Catholics of color (15%), white Catholics (14%), or white mainline (nonevangelical) Protestants (14%) are QAnon believers.
The current data was based on 19,399 respondents in all 50 states (349 of them Latter-day Saints) from four 2021 PRRI surveys.
“I don’t see any evidence that religion is a direct factor influencing QAnon beliefs,” said Brigham Young University political scientist Quin Monson. “The PRRI analysis suggests that QAnon beliefs are driven mostly by media consumption habits filtered through a partisan lens.”
Belief in this particular conspiracy theory “is mostly due to consumption of far-right media by conservative Republicans,” Monson said. “To the extent that QAnon belief is correlated with religion at all, it’s likely because religion is also correlated with partisanship and media consumption and not necessarily because religious belief directly causes a person to be more prone to believe in this or any conspiracy theory.”
The findings are not that different from a similar PRRI poll in May 2021.
That PRRI survey found that Latter-day Saints joined white evangelicals and Hispanic Protestants as the most likely to believe in QAnon.
Nearly a fifth (18%) of Latter-day Saints agreed with the supposition of devilish pedophiles running the world. Even more (22%) believed a storm will cast out these evildoers. And almost a quarter (24%) say patriots may have to use violence to rescue the nation.
In the current poll, there is no breakdown of support for the individual statements.
All those figures are higher — only slightly so in some cases — than the general U.S. population.
So why are so many Latter-day Saints drawn to conspiracy theories about politics and religion?
“Because they’re coming from voices and institutions that they have already learned to trust.” It’s not about whether people “are intelligent and able to discern the truth,” Bowman said on The Salt Lake Tribune’s weekly “Mormon Land” podcast in June. “It’s about belonging.”
Instead of carefully evaluating data, he said, “you are often getting information from people you trust, from your friends, from your community, right? So you are more likely to believe in that.”
And from the internet, he said, with its unvetted dump of information.
The just-released survey found that media consumption plays a role in predicting belief in QAnon.
“Americans who most trust far-right news sources like One America News Network and Newsmax are multiple times more likely to believe in QAnon,” PRRI said, “than those who most trust mainstream news outlets.”
Possibly in response to members’ acceptance of false narratives, including QAnon, Latter-day Saint leaders added a section to the church’s General Handbook about “seeking information from reliable sources.”
Many outlets “are unreliable and do not edify,” the handbook states. “Some sources seek to promote anger, contention, fear, or baseless conspiracy theories. ...Therefore, it is important that church members be wise as they seek truth.
Church members, the leaders advise, “should seek out and share only credible, reliable, and factual sources of information. They should avoid sources that are speculative or founded on rumor.”