An astonishing number of people believe Pizzagate, the Facebook-fueled Clinton sex ring conspiracy story, could be true


Especially if they’re Trump voters.

Here’s a question I never thought I’d ask: Do you think Hillary Clinton is connected to a child sex ring being run out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.?

If you voted for Donald Trump, there’s a decent chance you think it’s true. Or, at least, you’re not sure, one way or another.

Nearly 50 percent of Trump voters think the Pizzagate theory is either true or could be true, according to a new poll released today from Public Policy Polling.

It’s yet another reminder that “fake news” — an admittedly lousy term used to describe a wide range of untrue things on the internet — has a depressingly receptive audience.

In this case, the non-story is a made-up tale about Clinton, her associates and an underage prostitute network. It started up this fall in dark corners of the internet, but quickly bubbled up through Facebook, which weaponized the meme with its sharing tools.

And it’s the same tale that prompted Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old North Carolina man, to drive to a Washington, D.C., pizza place on Sunday, armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle, so he could “shine some light” on the claims. He was arrested after firing the gun inside the restaurant.

Welch told the New York Times that he didn’t vote for Trump last month. But people who did were particularly likely to think that Pizzagate was true, or might be.

Public Policy Polling, which surveyed 1,224 registered voters this week, says that 14 percent of Trump voters believe Clinton is connected to the non-existent child sex ring, while another 32 percent aren’t sure. Nationwide, those numbers are 9 percent and 19 percent, respectively.


Public Policy Polling

Grain of salt? Sure: For starters, it’s possible that Welch’s story, which generated lots of attention earlier this week, helped seed the theory with poll respondents who might never have heard about it otherwise.

And more broadly, it’s a poll, so it’s going to have some noise in it. Which is the only plausible explanation for the fact that Public Policy Polling says that 5 percent of Clinton voters thought Pizzagate was true.

Or, in the words of Jim Williams, a Public Policy Polling analyst who worked on today’s survey: “You can ask anything to anyone, and you’re going to get 3 percent or 4 percent or 5 percent saying ‘yes.’”

It’s also true that crazy conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and her husband aren’t new, and have had a large national audience for decades. If you listened to talk radio during Bill Clinton’s presidency in the 1990s, you heard many tales about mysterious deaths, deals with drug cartels and more.

The difference now is that the internet, and Facebook in particular, makes this stuff so much easier to transmit, so quickly. This non-story didn’t exist a couple months ago, and now it has national traction. Imagine what we’re going to believe next.

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