One cannot judge the threat posed by a movement merely by its size; even a small number of radicalised individuals can cause significant harm. However, with so much talk in the media about the rise of QAnon in recent months it would be easy to overstate the support for this conspiracy theory. For that reason, HOPE not hate commissioned new polling in September 2020 to gauge knowledge of, and attitudes towards, QAnon and related conspiracy theories in the UK.
We found that QAnon remains a marginal force in British society, with just one in five having heard of the theory. While this is a small section of the British public, the figure is surprisingly high considering QAnon remained an incredibly niche phenomenon in the UK until the beginning of the year.
However, measuring support for QAnon is more complex than one might think. Whilst 8% of our sample claimed to support QAnon, a number of these “supporters” also claimed in a previous question that they had not actually heard of QAnon, results that echo a recent survey in the US. Taking those who claimed to have both heard of QAnon and to support it as a more accurate figure, we get the still considerable figure of 5.7% (3.2% strong support, and 2.5% soft support), although it is unclear what importance these respondents place on that support.
We also found that broader conspiratorial notions that fit into the worldview of QAnon are more widely supported, and that young people especially are more open to conspiracy theories. This suggests there is scope for QAnon to grow further in the UK.
This is the first poll examining British attitudes towards QAnon, and further surveys, interviews and focus groups are required to fully explore the extent and shape of QAnon belief in the UK.
Support and Reach
Our questionnaire sought to gauge knowledge of and support for QAnon. We also asked about the Pizzagate theory, which is closely related to QAnon, alongside the more established notion of a New World Order, and the world-famous British conspiracy theorist David Icke. The hope was to explore the extent to which the public is familiar with, and open to, long-standing conspiracy theory scenes that share common tropes with QAnon.
We found that:
- 19% had heard of QAnon, while the majority (76%) had not and 6% were unsure. Younger people are more familiar with the theory: 24% of 18-25 year olds, and 26% of 25-34 year olds. However, knowledge of the theory does not exceed one in four among any age group. Men (23%) were more likely than women (15%) to say that they had heard of the theory, and graduates (26%) were more likely than non-graduates (15%) to voice knowledge of QAnon.
- Almost one in ten (8%) claimed to support QAnon; 4% claimed to be a “strong supporter”, with a further 4% claimed to be a “soft supporter”. However, twice as many (17%) selected “Neither a supporter or opponent”, while 1% saw themselves as “soft opponent”, 10% “strong opponent”, and the majority (63%) were unclear, selecting either “don’t know” or that they “had not heard of either QAnon, Pizzagate, New World Order, or David Icke”.
- However, only 85% of those “strong supporters” claimed in a previous question that they had actually heard of the theory (with 14% claiming they had not, and 1% unsure). This discrepancy was starker amongst soft supporters; only 57% of this group also claimed to have heard of QAnon (with 39% claiming they had not, and 4% unsure). This means that only 70% of those who claimed to support QAnon were sure they had previously heard of the theory.
This discrepancy may in part be due to the role of the survey itself in the production of results. Professor Brian Schaffner of Tufts University polled Americans on QAnon beliefs in September, releasing his findings in a recent report with the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD). Schaffner writes: “many of these respondents may actually be hearing these claims for the first time when asked about them in the survey”, and so may inflate estimates of how widely conspiracies are believed. It seems a similar issue appeared in our QAnon polling in the UK.
When taking respondents who say they have both heard about the theory and support it, we get lower, but more accurate, figures:
- A still considerable 5.7% of our sample claim they support QAnon (3.2% strong and 2.5% soft support). 17% of all those who have heard about QAnon claimed that they strongly support it, with 13% soft support. 16% selected “neither a supporter or opponent”, 5% selected soft opponent, and 42% strong opponent, with 6% selecting “don’t know”.
Whilst this figure is still high, it is crucial to highlight that we cannot know what importance these respondents place on that support, and it should not be taken that “strong supporters” necessarily hold a diehard commitment to QAnon and an unquestioning belief in all its claims. As Schaffner points out, “views towards QAnon should not be taken as synonymous with conspiracy belief”, as he found that many of those who claimed to have both heard of QAnon “did not even know about, much less believe, all the QAnon conspiracies” he asked about in his poll. He goes on to state that “equating QAnon support in a survey with full adherence to the conspiracy claims put forth by QAnon likely overstates the extent to which QAnon supporters are fully enmeshed in QAnon and minimizes the penetration and influence of QAnon conspiracy theories beyond those who identify as supporters.”
The results do, however, at least indicate a concerning degree of openness to QAnon. Whilst it is undoubtedly still a marginal force in the UK, as we shall see, aspects of the QAnon worldview are more widely supported by the British public, suggesting scope for its further spread.
Room to Grow
Our poll found that young Brits are especially open to broader conspiratorial notions, many of which predate QAnon but fit with the QAnon worldview.
Support for the idea of a secret cabal controlling global events is prevalent, especially among young people. 9% claimed they strongly agreed, and 20% claimed they agreed, with the statement: “Regardless of who is officially in charge of governments and other organisations, there is a single group of people who secretly control events and rule the world together”. This rises to 38% and 43% respectively among the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups.
Though a minority, 7% of our sample claim they strongly agree, and 18% claim they agree, with the statement “Secret Satanic cults exist and include influential elites”; again, these statements were more widely support among younger age groups (35% of 18-24s, 33% of 25-34s). The Satanic nature of the conspirators is core QAnon lore, but the idea that influential elites are secretly engaging in Devil-worship long predates QAnon, having been proliferated by religious groups for hundreds of years, so it is to be expected that the notion is more widely supported.
In addition, 8% of our sample claim to strongly agree, and 17% claim to agree, with the statement “Elites in Hollywood, politics, the media and other powerful positions are secretly engaging in large scale child trafficking and abuse”. Such results are perhaps unsurprising in light of continuing revelations about Jeffrey Epstein, a well-connected financier at the centre of a child sex trafficking network. The genuine horror of Epstein’s crimes has become a central focus for QAnon, which mixes real life tragedies with fantastical misinformation. The suspicion that Epstein is just a small node in a much larger web has likely done much to radicalise people into the QAnon worldview.
Worryingly, we found that that 7% claim they strongly agree, and 10% claim they agree, with the statement “Jews have disproportionate control of powerful institutions, and use that power for their own benefit and against the good of the general population”; only 46% disagree. Support for this antisemitic statement rises to 30% among the 25-34 age group. Antisemitism is a long-established tradition of conspiracy belief, with Jewish people often explicitly or implicitly identified as the conspirators of various plots. QAnon has drawn from some of these established notions, with a strong vein of antisemitism running through the theory.
Conspiracy theories about COVID-19 have spread significantly since the onset of the pandemic and subsequent government measures. Our polling found that:
• Although a minority view, 5% claim they strongly agree, and 9% claim they agree, with the statement “A covid-19 vaccine will be used maliciously to infect people with poison or insert microchips into people”.
• Linked to this, 7% claim they strongly agree, and 10% claim they agree, with the statement “Covid-19 has been intentionally released as part of a “depopulation” plan orchestrated by the UN or New World Order”.
• Over one in five claim they agree (8% strongly agree, and 15% agree) with the statement “Covid-19 is a bio-weapon intentionally spread by the Chinese state to weaken Western economies”.
Again, these notions were more likely to be supported by younger respondents.
The growth of COVID-19 conspiracy theories has coincided with the spread of QAnon, and QAnon has incorporated such theories into its grand narrative, with followers variously alleging that the virus is fabricated, or a weapon released by the cabal to allow for election rigging, or other malign purposes.
One potential barrier to wider support for QAnon in the UK could be the poor opinion the British populace have towards US President Donald Trump. Orthodox QAnon is a hyperpartisan, US-centric narrative, with the hero figure of Trump at its centre; however, our polling finds that 77% hope Trump loses the Presidential election, and a majority of Brits view him in a “very unfavourable” light. However, as we outline elsewhere in the report, the theory has developed outside its orthodox incarnation, downplaying many of the US-centric elements and thus becoming more translatable to other national contexts, meaning that negativity towards Trump may not be the barrier it once was.
Whilst QAnon remains fringe in the UK, our results indicate a general unease amongst sections of the British population, especially the young, and an openness to antisemitism and the notion that sexual predation and Satanism are at work amongst the powerful. This suggests that there is room for QAnon to spread further, bringing together those already susceptible to its worldview.
Who are the supporters?
The following analysis isolates those who have heard of QAnon (19% of our sample), and digs into a smaller group still – those who have both heard of, and support, QAnon (6%). Whilst this pool is far too small to draw any hard conclusions, it suggests what QAnon supporters may have in common.
Men and women were roughly as likely to support QAnon, and whilst support came across all social grades and working situations, non-graduates were more likely to voice support than graduates. Support was also much higher among the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups than older age groups.
QAnon originated in right wing US political subcultures, and strong supporters were more likely to have voted Conservative in 2017 and 2019 General Elections than Labour, and to have voted Leave than Remain. Those who identified themselves as a “Nationalist” or “Conservative” were also more likely to strongly support QAnon than respondents identifying with other options (Centrist, Liberal, Progressive, Socialist, Libertarian, Other, Don’t Know). These differences are not stark, however, and at least some degree of support came from across the political spectrum. As Joseph Uscinski of the University of Miami has argued, based on his own polling in the US, that rather than political alignment, QAnon beliefs are best explained by “conspiratorial worldviews, which are themselves uncorrelated with political orientations”.
The jury is still out on who QAnon supporters are and what exactly they believe, and further analysis is required in order to fully understand this multifaceted and quickly developing phenomenon. However, our findings indicate a worrying degree of openness to QAnon, and potential for its further spread.
- Click here to read the full report.
Methodology: Hanbury Strategy conducted a survey of 2,000 adults between September 8 and September 11 2020, using an online panel of respondents. To ensure the sample was as representative as possible, we sourced the most up to date census statistics to inform our weighting and sampling criteria, and collected responses according to strict quotas. Respondents under the age of 18 were disqualified.
Each panellist was assigned an individual ID by the online panel provider, which was used to select panellists for the survey according to the target sampling criteria and to ensure panellists were not over-contacted, which limits survey fatigue and potential bias. The data was also passed through a series of automatic and manual checks to deal with any poor quality responses or duplication that might have occurred.
Finally, to adjust for small discrepancies in sampling, the data was then weighted to be nationally representative using an RIM weighting scheme, which weighted respondents based on the interactions between region, gender and age.