Millions of people in the United Kingdom will head to the polling stations on Thursday (7th May) to vote in the 2015 general election. There will however be a large portion of people, whilst eligible, will not cast their vote.
Looking back at the 2010 general election, just 29.7 million out of the 45.6 million people eligible to vote did so. 15.9 million people therefore did not vote.
There may be many reasons for this, such as a disinterest in politics or the election process or competing time commitments. Another key contributor may however be the influence of exposure to conspiracy theories.
Research conducted by Karen Douglas and myself have explored this idea further. We found that when people were exposed to conspiracy theories that argued the government is involved in shady deals and plots, people reported reduced intentions to engage in the political process such as voting. This effect was explained by an increase in feelings of political powerlessness – which is the feeling that one’s action will not impact the political system.
Our research therefore suggests that exposure to government conspiracy theories may increase feelings that one’s action will have little impact, which may lower one’s intention to engage in political behaviours.
People need to vote. If people do not, such disengagement may be detrimental for society and could damage important social systems that are needed for society to function effectively.
Conspiracy theories, with the aid of the Internet, are becoming more popular. Twitter for example, is flourishing with conspiracy theories. This therefore begs the question: Will there be even less people out of the pool of eligible voters going to the polling stations on Thursday than in 2010?
Then, out of those who will not be voting, could conspiracy theories be playing a role? Research to date is suggesting they may be.