Some hoped that Donald Trump’s election defeat in 2020 would also bring about the end of QAnon, yet belief in the conspiracy is still on the rise and has managed to both expand and establish itself in German-speaking countries. There are indicators that the German-language sphere forms the largest space of resonance for QAnon conspiracy narratives after the USA. This is the central conclusion reached by CeMAS in their study, "Q vadis? The spread of QAnon in the German-speaking world". The study contains representative data established via a survey, that demonstrates both the spread and resonance of QAnon conspiracy narratives. This data is supplemented by an analysis of the reach of German-speaking channels and groups on Telegram that fall within the QAnon spectrum.
The following key findings emerged from the study:
- More than one in ten people in Germany agree with QAnon conspiracy narratives. Just under nine percent in Germany and six percent in Austria said they had actually read very much about QAnon. Nevertheless, the conspiracy narratives from the QAnon milieu find approval in society: among the 1,970 respondents in Germany, 12.4 percent agree more or less strongly with QAnon conspiracy narratives. Austria shows higher approval ratings: of the 1,012 respondents, 16.2 percent at least partially agree with QAnon conspiracy narratives.
- AfD and FPÖ voters in particular, are more likely to believe in QAnon conspiracy narratives. In Germany, almost 44 percent of the AfD voters surveyed (tend to) agree with QAnon conspiracy narratives. In contrast, conspiracy narratives are clearly rejected among all other voter groups - from 91 percent for the Left Party to 96.3 percent for the Greens. A similar pattern can be seen in Austria: 46.1 per cent of FPÖ voters and 32 per cent of MFG voters agree with QAnon conspiracy narratives; among voters of the other parties, where these statements are rejected by at least 90 per cent.
- Almost half of the currently unvaccinated people in Germany and Austria believe to some extent in QAnon conspiracy narratives. 46 percent of the unvaccinated agree at least partially with central conspiracy narratives of the QAnon sphere, while only 8.7 percent of people who have received at least one vaccination against Covid19 agree with such narratives. In Austria, similar ratios can be seen: Approval ratings of 41.1 percent among unvaccinated people in contrast to 11.4 percent among people who have been vaccinated.
- QAnon content continues to be very popular on Telegram: messages reach hundreds of thousands of accounts in German-speaking countries every day. In total, more than 115 QAnon channels with at least 1,000 subscribers could be identified. Six channels even have more than 100,000 subscribers, some of whom were acquired within the last year. In 84 QAnon groups, more than 8.3 million messages were exchanged in 2021.
- Global crises fuel the QAnon movement. At the start of the Covid19 pandemic, QAnon experienced enormous growth in membership and reach in German-speaking countries. Josef Holnburger reminds us that other catastrophic event can also act as a catalyst; "with the invasion of Ukraine, we are seeing a wider reach of the scene again. Every catastrophe is used to spread their narratives of a global, supposed conspiracy - in their final analysis, the milieu around QAnon wishes for war and chaos".
Pia Lamberty, CeMAS, explains the significance of the results; "Society must learn its lessons from the pandemic: Conspiracy narratives and disinformation are not only a challenge in managing crises, but an attack on democratic values".
Even though QAnon conspiracy narratives themselves may seem absurd, it is important not to underestimate the danger posed by them. "Anti-democratic voices must always be contradicted and social boundaries of what can be said must be clearly named and outlined. On the one hand, this includes exposing disinformation and conspiracy ideologies, denouncing them and taking action against them. On the other hand, this includes combating racism and anti-Semitism, which often try to hide under the guise of freedom of expression," says Andreas Eberhardt, CEO of The Alfred Landecker Foundation, which has supported CeMAS since its founding.
About the methodology of the study
In this study, a representative sample of the German and Austrian population was asked about their attitudes and behaviour. The focus of the survey was on conspiracy narratives. The recruitment of participants was planned in such a way that the sample reflected the distribution in the overall population according to key parameters such as age, gender and federal state. The survey was conducted online by the market research institute Bilendi & respondi between 17 January 2022 and 22 January 2022. In total, the data of 1,970 people in Germany and 1,012 people in Austria was evaluated. The survey was supplemented by an analysis of the digital QAnon networks and their reach on the Telegram platform. For this purpose, 115 channels and 84 groups were identified and evaluated.