Politics and Public Opinion, Polls

50 years of conspiracy theory polling: What you may have missed in the polls

Conspiracy theories: What do Americans believe fifty years after the JFK assassination? from American Enterprise Institute on Vimeo.


Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the belief that more than one person was involved in his assassination remains strong. This is the most widely held conspiracy theory in America. A new AEI Public Opinion Study looks closely at public attitudes about the Kennedy assassination and a variety of conspiracy theories. Here are some findings from that study.

JFK: In an April 2013 poll, 59% said others were involved in a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. As early as November of 1963, people had doubts as to whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole shooter. Sixty-two percent told the National Opinion Research Center that other people were involved in the assassination.


Pearl Harbor: In the few polls we have, a sizable minority of the population believes President Roosevelt knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor in advance and used the attack as an excuse to go to war. In a 1997 Scripps Howard and Ohio University Poll, 16% thought it was very likely and 26% somewhat likely that Roosevelt knew in advance.


Aliens and Roswell: Polls taken by Roper Starch Worldwide from 1977 to 1999 show that around 20% believe UFOs from somewhere in the universe exist. A similar proportion embraces the view that UFOs have landed in the United States at Roswell, New Mexico and that the government is engaged in a systematic cover-up of this event. A March 2013 Public Policy Polling survey found that 21% embraced this view.


MLK: Some believe that the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was carried out by the US government and argue that James Earl Ray was a scapegoat. These allegations have found a receptive audience. In a 1976 Harris poll, 60% believed the assassination was the work of a conspiracy. In a 2008 CNN poll, 55% endorsed the notion of a conspiracy.


9/11: Pollsters have asked about several conspiracies regarding 9/11. In a July 2006 Scripps Howard and Ohio University poll, 16% said it was likely that the “people in the federal government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted to United States to go to war in the Middle East.”

Obama’s Birthplace: Even though a majority of Americans consistently tell pollsters that they think the President is a U.S. citizen, a substantial portion (as high as 39% in some polls) think Obama was born abroad. Perhaps expectedly, these responses divide starkly along party lines; Republicans are more likely to believe Obama was not born in the United States, although some polls show that about 10 percent of Democrats also embrace this view. Moreover, these opinions are skewed according to the ages of those polled, with older Americans being more likely to believe Obama was born abroad.


2 thoughts on “50 years of conspiracy theory polling: What you may have missed in the polls

  1. check the birthers on other conspiracy theories and you’ll find a pattern.

    why most Conservatives believe a wide variety of conspiracy theories – is interesting and a little scary.

    you forget the weapons of mass destruction… same crowd.

    you’re getting errors on your reference links. not a good sign.

    • FDR’s records were sealed for 50 years. When that 50 was up they were sealed for another 50. We should not impute
      that there is a smoking gun to hide???

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