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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

41 million Americans are QAnon believers, survey finds

A hat with a QAnon symbol at a 2020 Trump rally in Wisconsin.

By Tiffany Tsu

More than a year after Donald Trump left office, the QAnon conspiracy theory that thrived during his administration continues to attract more Americans, including many Republicans and far-right news consumers, according to results from a survey released Thursday from the Public Religion Research Institute.

The nonprofit and nonpartisan group found that 16% of Americans, or roughly 41 million people, believed last year in the three key tenets of the conspiracy theory. Those are that Satanist pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation control the government and other major institutions, that a coming storm will sweep elites from power and that violence might be necessary to save the country.

In October 2021, 17% of Americans believed in the conspiracy theory, up from 14% in March, the survey said. At the same time, the percentage of people who rejected QAnon falsehoods shrank to 34% in October from 40% in March. The survey covered more than 19,000 respondents and was conducted across the country throughout 2021.

The QAnon movement, which the FBI considers to be a potential terrorist threat, centers on an anonymous author whose online messages, signed Q, fueled the spread of the reality-warping ideology. Trump also figured in the conspiracy theory as someone who was recruited by top military officials to use his presidency against the shadowy liberal cabal. The conspiracy theory was amplified and spread on social media.

After Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, QAnon was expected to be hobbled without him. But it has persisted despite that and despite efforts by tech platforms to staunch its spread. Forensic linguists have also tried to unmask and defang the anonymous author who signed online messages as Q.

QAnon adherents, including one known as the QAnon Shaman, have been connected to violent crimes and to last year’s Capitol riot. The convoluted mythology could influence the midterm elections this year, with dozens of candidates for national office expressing at least some support of QAnon.

Robert P. Jones, the founder and CEO of the research group and a social science researcher with decades of experience, said he never expected to be dealing with serious survey questions about whether powerful U.S. institutions were controlled by devil-worshiping, sex-trafficking pedophiles. To have so many Americans agree with such a question, he said, was “stunning.”

“There’s a real temptation to dismiss this as farcical and kind of outlandish, but we were convinced pretty early on that this was actually a serious movement that’s making inroads into not only mainstream political parties but also mainstream religious groups and putting down roots in more mainstream institutions,” Jones said. “We saw this move from the message boards on Reddit to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — this is a reality that we really have to contend with.”

Believers are “racially, religiously and politically diverse,” Natalie Jackson, the institute’s director of research, said in a statement. But some demographics are more likely to fit the bill.

Among Republicans, 25% found QAnon to be valid, compared with 14% of independents and 9% of Democrats. Media preferences were a major predictor of QAnon susceptibility, with people who trust far-right news sources such as One America News Network and Newsmax nearly five times more likely to be believers than those who trust mainstream news. Fox News viewers were twice as likely to back QAnon ideas, the survey found.

Most QAnon believers associated Christianity with being American and said that the United States risked losing its culture and identity and must be protected from foreign influence. Nearly 7 in 10 believers agreed with the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

More than half of QAnon supporters are white, while 20% are Hispanic and 13% are Black. They were most likely to have household incomes of less than $50,000 a year, hold at most a high school degree, hail from the South and reside in a suburb.

The results are from 19,399 respondents to four surveys conducted by the institute throughout 2021. The margin of error is plus or minus 0.9 percentage points, the institute said.

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