QAnon and the False Narratives Driving Alternate Realities in American Communities

by Dante Chinni October 15, 2020

For some voters, the 2020 election is about much more than politics. It is about a battle between right versus wrong, or even good versus evil, and driving those attitudes is a series of false stories circulating on social media, particularly those related to the QAnon collection of conspiracy theories.

To get a sense of how those stories and false narratives are circulating through the 15 types of the American Communities Project, Dynata surveyed more than 2,000 people across the country and asked them about QAnon and a series of issues, some real, some not.

Those data suggest that while QAnon does not have a massive reach in the United States, the movement has some approval across all sorts of communities — including some that surprise. And, perhaps more important, the survey shows a remarkable tension across the country about where the divisions may be taking the nation.

(It is difficult to get a large enough sample of all the ACP types in polling, so for the Dynata survey we merged them into seven: Big Cities, Urban Suburbs, Middle Suburbs, and Exurbs as well as Rural Whites (Aging Farmlands, Evangelical Hubs, Graying America, LDS Enclaves, Rural Middle America, and Working Class Country), Minority Centers (African American South, Hispanic Centers, and Native American Lands) and Young and Mobile (College Towns and Military Posts). The results are shown through the prism of those groups.)

About Q

QAnon is less a movement than a loose collection of right-wing ideas and conspiracies. Among them is the belief that a league of pedophiles and Satan-worshipers control the government and have worldwide influence. That group of evil-doers, which includes Democrats, celebrities, and journalists, are working to thwart the presidency of President Trump. (The online news program Meet The Press Reports did an entire episode on QAnon and conspiracy theories recently.)

To be clear, it’s hard to nail down exactly what Q (as it is known) truly is. It morphs and changes with new fringe ideas. And for that reason it is a difficult topic on which to poll. How can you tell what a person is responding to when you ask them about it? Still, the growing support for the idea deserves attention.

Dynata found that 9% of those surveyed “approved” of QAnon. The numbers were fairly flat across the ACP types, but there were a few noteworthy bumps.

For instance, the 12% approval in the heavily-Democratic Big Cities is something of a surprise, as is the 11% in the Minority Centers. But there are a few points to keep in mind here.

First, those numbers are still small overall. The Big Cities may be heavily Democratic, but they are not all Democratic. In some of those Big City counties, the Republican vote is especially committed, and they may be more open to Q. And the religious aspects of Q could be appealing to some in the Minority Centers. In other surveys we have seen those communities more inclined to believe conspiracies.

Second, the merging of the types may be flattening out some peaks in the data. For instance, one might expect QAnon to have a stronger hold in the Evangelical Hubs, which are both very religious and very conservative. But those counties are part of the larger Rural White group, which may be hiding those peaks.

But regardless, the overall low numbers of approval for what is ultimately a strange set of fringe beliefs is a good sign for the nation in a larger sense. The bigger concern in the data comes on larger questions of internal division in the United States.

Disagreements and Tensions

The data show some sharp differences of opinion in communities on real issues that are facing the country and on some ideas that are completely false.

For instance, the survey tested the statement “Kamala Harris is a natural born US Citizen eligible to serve as President.” The statement is, of course, true. Harris was born in Oakland, California, in 1964. And overall, 60% of those surveyed agreed with the fact. But in some communities fewer than 50% of respondents agreed with it.

Only 43% of those in the Exurbs agreed with that statement, and 45% of those in the Rural White communities agreed. Maybe most surprising, only 36% of those in the Minority Centers agreed. Again, that may have something to do with the population survey in those communities, 49% were white, non-Hispanic. But the larger takeaway: There is still a lot of disagreement in the country on this point that is, without question, true.

There is also disagreement on the larger meaning of the Black Lives Matter movement. The survey asked whether BLM is a “positive agent of change in the United States” and only four in 10 said it was — with the figure in some communities dipping much lower.

In the Exurbs and among Rural White communities, the “positive agent of change” number was only 31%. The Minority Centers again surprised with a figure was exactly in line national figure. One might have expected the figure to be higher, though on the whole the Minority Center respondents were only 28% Black, because the group also held a large segment of Hispanic voters.

The BLM as a “positive agent of change” number broke 50% in just one type, the Big Cities, where the biggest protests have occurred. Those places not only have large Black populations, but they also tend to lean heavily Democratic.

Civil War?

The differences in the numbers at the community level may help explain one common feeling in all the community types: a concern that tensions are likely to grow in the United States and could boil over into something else.

More than a third of all those surveyed, 35%, said they believe “there will soon be a civil war in the United States.” And that number was relatively flat across the type.

In every one of the seven types, more than a third of respondents said they believed the country soon would be in a civil war —  from 34% in the Big Cities to 39% in the Rural White communities. Under 50%, of course, but it’s a dramatic statement on which to see such unanimity.

A hallmark of the ACP is that different communities see the world differently, but not on this point, which is really about perceived divisions. The respondents didn’t say they supported the idea, merely that it seemed to be on the horizon.

To be clear, the question did not ask whether there would be armed conflict. The phrase “civil war” can mean different things to people. The anger between “red and blue” voters can make it feel like a cold civil war is already underway in the United States.

But the biggest takeaway from the survey may how deeply these concerns run. Election Day will either usher in a President Joe Biden or four more years of Donald Trump, but the numbers here don’t suggest much will be resolved. The divides in this survey won’t suddenly disappear on January 20.

Vol. 3 2020-2021

Deaths of Despair Across America

The American Communities Project is undertaking a 30-month study of Deaths of Despair in its 15 community types.

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