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Severe Depressive Symptoms Exacerbate the Relationship Between Conspiracy Beliefs and Voting for Election Doubters (WP-23-22)

Matthew Baum, James Druckman, Katherine Ognyanova, and Jonathan Schulman

Two of the most significant concerns about the contemporary United States are the erosion of democratic institutions and the increase in rates of depression. The researchers provide evidence linking these phenomena. They use a survey (N=11,517) to show a relationship between COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs and the endorsement of the 2020 election fraud claim as well as voting, in 2022, for gubernatorial candidates who cast doubt on the 2020 election results. The authors further predict and find that the presence of severe depressive symptoms exacerbates these relationships. An increase in depression among COVID-19 conspiracy believers is positively associated with voters casting their ballots for candidates who question the foundation of democratic legitimacy. The results highlight how interventions to address mental health can improve the country’s political health.

Matthew Baum, Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications, Harvard Kennedy School

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Katherine Ognyanova, Associate Professor of Communication, Rutgers University

Jonathan Schulman, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University


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