To figure out who might be a follower of the unhinged conspiracy movement QAnon, researchers might look at a person’s religious beliefs, or their devotion to Donald Trump, or even their belief in other conspiracy theories.
And while all of these can be indicators of a predilection to believing in QAnon, the single best predictor is which TV news station you watch, with those who favor right-wing sources up to nine times more likely to believe in the conspiracy than those who trust mainstream broadcast network news.
That’s the finding of a new survey from the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which surveyed over 5,500 adults in all 50 states over a two week period in early March.
Nationally, the survey found that a whopping 15% of Americans—roughly 31 million people—believed in the completely unfounded claim that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”
The figure jumped to 20%—or 42 million Americans—for the less outlandish, but still baseless, claim that “there is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.”
But possibly one of the most worrying findings in the survey, particularly in the wake of the central role QAnon played in the Jan. 6 riots, is that 15% of Americans agreed that “because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
These findings are all the more remarkable given that former President Donald Trump had been out of power for two months when the survey was conducted, and Q, the anonymous leader of the movement, had disappeared from the internet three months earlier.
Putting a concrete figure on the number of people who believe in QAnon conspiracies is difficult. Many of those who espouse the core beliefs of the movement may not identify as QAnon believers, particularly those who might have come to believe in these conspiracies through the so-called Pastel QAnon campaign.
But by asking respondents about the central conspiracies shared by most QAnon believers, the survey may have been able to provide the first concrete indication of the level of support the conspiracy movement enjoys in the U.S.
Unsurprisingly, people who trusted right-wing news sources—such as One America News and Newsmax—were the most inclined to believe in core QAnon conspiracies, with 40% of them agreeing with the statement about Satan-worshipping pedophiles running a global child sex trafficking operation.
Nearly half of those viewers agreed with the statement about a storm coming to sweep away the elites.
Around 18% of people who mostly watch Fox News said they believe the statement about a global pedophile ring, while 21% of people who don’t watch any TV news agreed with the statement.
MSNBC watchers are the least likely to agree with the statement (5%), while 12% of people who mostly watch local news believe in the conspiracy.
“Media news consumption is by far the strongest independent predictor of QAnon beliefs,” the report’s author wrote. “Remarkably, those who report most trusting far-right media sources are nearly nine times more likely to be QAnon believers compared to those who most trust broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS, and NBC.”
TV news watching was just one of the factors the survey examined.
The survey also found that Republicans were much more likely to believe in the most outrageous QAnon conspiracies about the Satanic pedophile ring (23% versus 8%). “Even with a range of controls in place, Republicans and conservatives are twice as likely as Democrats and liberals to be QAnon believers,” the authors of the report wrote.
And, the findings show that a quarter of Hispanic Protestants and white evangelical Protestants agree that the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles.
This finding lines up with reporting from earlier this year from the American Enterprise Institute, which showed that over a quarter of white evangelicals were QAnon believers.
The researchers found a strong link between levels of education and QAnon belief. Americans without a college education are three times as likely as Americans with a college education to be QAnon believers (18% versus 6%).
Additional indicators of a higher likelihood of QAnon beliefs uncovered by the survey include being a man, earning a lower income, being younger, and living in a rural area.
But VICE News’ own reporting this year has shown that the QAnon conspiracy movement has touched families in all areas of U.S. society, and in many cases caused untold damage.