American Government and Politics
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The Paranoid Style and the Rise of Fake News in American Politics

Peter Francia East Carolina University
Abstract
In 1964, Richard Hofstadter authored The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Fifty-five years later in an era now littered with “fake news” websites and conspiracy theories that can spread rapidly over the Internet, Hofstadter’s work warrants revisiting. In this paper, I draw on the concept of the “paranoid style,” but with a quantitative twist. Psychologists Allan Fenigstein and Peter Vanable (1992) developed a survey instrument to assess paranoid thought. Using data from a survey that combines the Fenigstein and Vanable paranoia instrument with questions about present-day political conspiracies and fake news stories, my research asks: Is there a relationship between paranoia and one’s willingness to accept or deny established political facts? I hypothesize that in today’s sometimes confusing information environment, paranoia plays a significant role in understanding why some Americans are more susceptible than others to believing misinformation popularized through fake news websites. The results confirm my expectations.
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