A test of the grapevine: An empirical examination of conspiracy theories among african americans

Sharon Parsons, William Simmons, Frankie Shinhoster, John Kilburn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


This research examines the prevalence of belief in conspiracy theories among African Americans in one Deep South state and identifies the factors related to these beliefs. Overall, there is a surprisingly strong belief in most conspiracy theories involving government. Over 85 % of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that African Americans are harassed by police because of their race and that the criminal justice system is not fair to Blacks. The theories with the least support involved transracial adoption, family planning, and needle - exchange programs as genocide. Through factor analysis, the 11 conspiracy theory questions were combined into conceptual scales. The theories grouped into two distinct factors - malicious intent and benign neglect, with benign theories the more prevalent of the two. Suprisingly, age, gender, and education were not significant in explaining beliefs in malicious intent or benign neglect conspiracy theories. Among the interesting differences between the two groups of theories, church attendance was not significantly related to support for malicious intent theories, whereas it was negatively related to support for benign theories. The most important variable for explaining belief in conspiracies was the perceived involvement by African Americans in government. Those who believed that Blacks could influence the political process were less likely to believe in conspiracy theories. This finding suggests that such beliefs in conspiracy theories will not be reduced until African Americans perceive that they have more of a role to play in their government.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-222
Number of pages22
JournalSociological Spectrum
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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