as a Strategy of Political Communication

Conspiracy theories, till recently considered a fringe phenomenon, are now mainstream political discourse in many countries.  We ask why conspiracies are promoted by political elites. We argue that conspiracy-pandering is a strategy to alter the information environment of the public by destroying the credibility of all sources of information. This can help preventing policy change even in open societies where information is abundant. We build a formal model in which elites push conspiracy theories when evidence on an issue goes against them. Especially in the middle of scandals, this is useful.  In contrast, when the sender expects that future developments on a policy issue may favor her, she refrains from conspiracy-pandering.  We draw on a number of illustrations from conspiratorial discourse pushed by Russia on Western media markets, and from the informational environment in ``diminished’’ democracies.  We demonstrate the dire consequences for voter welfare. - with Thomas Braeuninger

under review