Here's the crux of the article:
Among Democrats and independents, having a higher level of political knowledge was correlated with decreased belief in conspiracies. But precisely the opposite was the case for Republicans, where knowledge actually made the problem worse. For each political knowledge question that they answered correctly, Republicans' belief in at least one conspiracy theory tended to increase by 2 percentage points.The article's author, Chris Mooney, knows his stuff. He suggests the reason may in part have to do with a conservative's greater need for "cognitive closure" and a need for certainty. A reasonable hypothesis, but I'd counter it has more to do with the nature of the conspiracies examined in the survey. The two "conservative" conspiracies are about Obama specifically, the two "liberal" conspiracies have to do with Bush stealing the 2000 election and "The Truther" movement about 9/11.
Equivalent? I'm not convinced. But let's turn to the survey itself, a national poll of 814 registered voters conducted in December 2012. First, despite the claim, it's really a survey of people who say they're registered voters, but that's a methodological quibble. Political scientist Dan Cassino, who runs the Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, says "birther" conspiracy theory is likely to believed more than others because "it's been discussed so often."
Yup. Two myths are anchored on Obama, are more recent, and received lots of mainstream media play -- mostly attempts to debunk them. I'd add here that there's a growing body of research that suggests attempts to debunk myths actually adds to their believability for some people, so I'd be damned cautious about arguing politically knowledgeable Republicans are more likely to believe "their" favorite myths compared to politically knowledgeable Democrats and "their" favorite myths.
And here's a point from Cassino's press release that doesn't comfortably fit the Republicans-are-evil-and-dumb narrative -- young African-Americans are more likely than whites to believe in conspiracy theories. Not sure how the hell you explain that one. Would you even want to try? Not me.
If we buy this set of conspiracy theories are equivalent (debatable) and if we buy into how the survey measures political knowledge (can't tell from the release), then the results raise a number of questions.
Allow me to get a bit PhDweebish below.
Greater political knowledge should result in less belief in conspiracies, but hold on. The theory of motivated reasoning suggests partisans, even knowledgeable ones, will be more likely to believe such myths. That's all partisans, not just one side of the divide. Essentially, people believe what they want to believe, especially when it's negative about someone they disagree with or dislike. So I maintain the Obama-anchored questions are not equivalent to the "truther" and "stolen election" questions. The latter are from several years ago, myths that received less mainstream news play by comparison -- and certainly damn little near the time the survey was conducted. This can skew your results.
Perhaps, and only perhaps, the Mother Jones article is a textbook instance of motivated reasoning, of seeing and believing what you want to believe -- in this case, about Republicans.