Baum, Matthew A., James Druckman, Katherine Ognyanova, and Jonathan Schulman. “Severe Depressive Symptoms Exacerbate the Relationship Between Conspiracy Beliefs and Voting for Election Doubters.” IPR Working Paper Series, June 12, 2023.

What’s the issue?

Two significant concerns in the United States are the increase in rates of depression and the erosion of democracy. Could there be a connection between people who experience depression and those who question the legitimacy of elections and embrace conspiracy theories? And if the answer is yes, could addressing mental health also improve the country’s political health?

What does the research say?

Harvard Kennedy School Professor Matthew Baum and other scholars have been surveying thousands of Americans nearly every month since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a working paper drawing on data from one of those surveys, Baum and colleagues find that severe depressive symptoms are associated with COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs—especially among men. And they find that conspiracy believers with severe depression were more likely to vote for candidates who question the foundation of democratic legitimacy.

The authors say their results highlight how interventions to treat depression could have benefits not only for individuals but also for democratic stability in communities.


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