The QAnon conspiracy theory surged back into national news recently when Twitter announced that it had banned numerous QAnon-affiliated accounts for coordinated harassment. Just before that, several QAnon-friendly candidates won congressional primaries. Jo Rae Perkins won Oregon’s Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate; Marjorie Taylor Greene won a plurality in the Republican primary for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District and is favored to win the August runoff; and Lauren Boebert defeated an incumbent to win the Republican nomination for Colorado’s 3rd District.

So far this election cycle, more than 50 supporters of the conspiracy theory have run or are running for national office. Most QAnon-supporting candidates are unlikely to win. But several have attracted supporters — even though they are endorsing a conspiracy theory that the FBI considers a domestic threat and that has spurred alleged acts of terrorism and violence.

So what do Americans think of QAnon, by and large? In August 2018, we surveyed Floridians and found that most had not heard of QAnon — and that it was very unpopular among those who had.

We reran our poll in Florida and nationwide to find out whether QAnon has gained supporters — and could become a meaningful political force.

The QAnon conspiracy theory

QAnon is a fringe conspiracy theory that began in 2017. The theory began making national headlines in the summer of 2018 when supporters wore “Q” apparel to a Trump rally in Florida. “Q” is supposedly a covert operative working with President Trump to dismantle the “deep state,” which, “Q” followers believe, controls both government and Hollywood and runs a pedophilic sex trafficking ring. The Clintons, Obamas, Bushes, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks have been accused of being a part of this “cabal.”

“Q” shares messages — or clues — to followers on the anonymous social media platform 8kun. Followers then decipher those clues to predict when Trump will topple the deep state. This conspiracy theory is ever-expanding, with numerous versions, some involving Satanists, doppelgangers, as well as John F. Kennedy Jr.

Trump has not explicitly supported the conspiracy theory. But he and his family have retweeted QAnon-friendly accounts, and QAnon supporters have visited the Trump White House.

Views of QAnon remain very unfavorable

In August 2018, shortly after QAnon made national headlines, our Floridian survey respondents rated various political figures and organizations on a “feeling thermometer” ranging from zero to 100, in which higher scores represent more positive views. Most Floridians were unfavorable toward the QAnon movement; the average score on the feeling thermometer was 24, a negative rating both in absolute and comparative terms. Although QAnon is often referred to as a “right-wing” conspiracy theory, both Democrats and Republicans rated QAnon unfavorably. The average among Democrats was 22, and the average among Republicans was 27.

Our latest poll of 1,039 Floridians was taken in June and administered online by Qualtrics; it was representative of Florida adults in terms of gender, age, income and race. QAnon remains about as unpopular. On the feeling thermometer, QAnon was rated about 21 on average; again, Democrats and Republicans rated it quite similarly, at about 20 and 24 on average, respectively.

In June, we also ran our poll nationwide on a representative sample of 1,040 American adults with Qualtrics. The U.S. public rated QAnon 24 on average. Democrats and Republicans across the country similarly rated it 25 and 26, respectively on average. These findings corroborate other national polls showing that Democrats and Republicans view QAnon both negatively and similarly.

So if partisanship does not predict support for QAnon, we wondered whether conspiracy thinking does. To measure this underlying worldview — one in which events and circumstances are the product of conspiracies — we asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

  • “Big events like wars, the recent recession, and the outcomes of elections are controlled by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us.”
  • “Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places.”
  • “Even though we live in a democracy, a few people will always run things anyway.”
  • “The people who really ‘run’ the country are not known to the voters.”

When we combine these four questions into a single summary measure of conspiracy thinking, we find that they are strongly correlated with positive views of QAnon, regardless of the survey respondent’s partisanship. In our U.S. poll, we find that Americans with below-average levels of conspiracy thinking rated QAnon 18 on average, with Republicans in that category rating it 18 and Democrats rating it 19 on average. In contrast, Americans with above-average levels of conspiracy thinking rated QAnon 31 on average; Republicans in this category rated it a 32, and Democrats a 30 on average. In short, people who see events and circumstances as the product of shadowy conspiracies, regardless of party, are those most likely to support “Q.”

Even though the GOP has attempted to distance itself from most of these candidates, all the QAnon supporters running for national office are Republicans. This may be because the QAnon theory posits Trump as a hero. But our results suggest instead that Republicans and Democrats view QAnon similarly. Perhaps more important, we don’t find much evidence that QAnon support is growing over time. The Pew Research Center, for example, found in March that 75 percent of Americans didn’t even know what QAnon was.

More broadly, QAnon’s appeal is not really based on traditional left-right politics. Rather, it seems to appeal to people who have an intense disdain for the established political order. It is no surprise then that much of the QAnon-themed Twitter accounts fantasize about violence and radical systemic change. This might explain why Q-friendly candidates such as Greene employ gun imagery and Perkins recently took an online “oath” to QAnon pledging to be a “digital soldier.”

Joseph E. Uscinski (@joeuscinski) is associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and co-author of “American Conspiracy Theories” (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Casey Klofstad is professor of political science at the University of Miami.

Justin Stoler is associate professor of geography at University of Miami.