Why Democracy Fuels Conspiracy Theories

Issue Date April 2022
Volume 33
Issue 2
Page Numbers 147–61
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Conspiracy theories are an increasingly popular form of political rhetoric around the globe. The use of conspiracy theories by public officials stems from long-term factors such as distrust, inequality, and political polarization, and is facilitated by one of the preconditions for democracy: competition. This essay explains why conspiracy theories are abundant in the politics of democracies and autocracies alike. It looks at the effects of conspiracy theories on public discourse and discusses how mainstream parties respond to conspiratorial challengers. It concludes by considering how conspiracy theories in politics might be countered.

About the Author

Scott Radnitz is Herbert J. Ellison Associate Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of Revealing Schemes: The Politics of Conspiracy in Russia and the Post-Soviet Region (2021) and coeditor of Enemies Within: The Global Politics of Fifth Columns (2022).

View all work by Scott Radnitz

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