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A Majority of Americans Believe in JFK Conspiracy Theories. Who Are They?

Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News/Wikimedia Commons

Americans have had 50 years to come to terms with the facts surrounding JFK’s assassination—but a majority of us aren’t satisfied. According to a recent Gallup poll, 61 percent of Americans believe Lee Harvey Oswald was not solely responsible for Kennedy’s death; the most popular alternative suspects include the mafia, the CIA and Fidel Castro. Even John Kerry recently said he has “serious doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.”

We can’t just dismiss the majority of Americans—and the Secretary of State—as gullible or irrational. But who are the 61 percent-ers? Social scientists have identified certain traits that correlate with belief in conspiracy theories.

Feeling powerless

Agreeing with statements like, “The problems of life are sometimes too big for me.” People who feel socially powerless in other ways—including ethnic minorities, young people and people whose jobs are at risk are also more likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories.

Saying that television sets experience emotion

Anthropomorphizing objects and ascribing motives to secret agents may involve the same types of thinking.

Feeling overwhelmed by modern society

Agreeing with statements like, “Things have gotten so confusing that nobody really knows what is what anymore.” There's also a correlation between belief in conspiracy and political cynicism.

Believing in other conspiracy theories— even if they contradict each other

People who believe Princess Diana was murdered are also more likely to believe she faked her own death. And people who suspect the Mafia was involved in JFK's death are also more likely to blame Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. In a 2003 Gallup poll, 21 percent of Americans blamed JFK's death on two different conspiring groups, and 12 percent thought three separate groups were involved. All of which suggests: Believing in a conspiracy theory is more about your own mentality than the facts of the case.