Christian Schnaudt
Conspiracy Beliefs and Perceptions of Electoral Integrity: Cross-National Evidence from 29 Countries

Extant research shows that belief in conspiracy theories and conspiratorial thinking are negatively related to citizens’ perceptions about the fairness and integrity of elections. However, by exclusively focusing on the United States as only one important empirical case, previous studies have left unanswered crucial questions on the scope, generalizability, and context dependency of their empirical findings. In this research note, I aim to fill this void by providing first empirical evidence on the relationship between conspiracy beliefs and electoral-integrity perceptions across twenty-nine countries. Using high-quality individual-level data from the European Social Survey enriched with contextual-level data on the quality of elections taken from the Varieties of Democracy Project, the findings from linear mixed-effects regression models reveal that (1) conspiracy beliefs are negatively related to citizens’ evaluations concerning the integrity of national elections; (2) the specific strength of the observed individual-level relationship varies substantially across countries; and (3) the relationship between conspiracy beliefs and individual electoral-integrity perceptions depends on the contextual-level quality and integrity of elections across countries. Specifically, the results indicate that the negative relationship between conspiracy beliefs and electoral-integrity perceptions is strongest in contexts in which the actual quality of elections is high, and in which citizens have little reason to (seriously) doubt the integrity of the electoral process. These findings provide an important and hitherto missing cross-national and multilevel perspective on the nexus between individual conspiracy beliefs and electoral-integrity perceptions, highlighting that the “conspiratorial challenge” to electoral legitimacy in contemporary democracies is real and more than an “American affliction.”