Christopher Bader is a sociologist at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., where he has three times been the principal investigator on the annual Chapman Survey of American Fears. The survey asks adults about dozens of topics, such as nuclear war, pollution, volcanic eruptions and zombies, and then ranks the terrors in order of prevalence. Dr. Bader also studies religion and conspiracy theories, and he finds these big issues often intersect. The most recent survey was published in October 2023. In an interview that has been edited and condensed for clarity, he discussed the latest findings.

As we head into 2024, what does your latest research say we’re most afraid of right now? Government corruption. Sixty percent of Americans are afraid of corrupt government officials.

Like Watergate-style stuff?

One of the things we’re learning is that there is a lot of interpretation about what corruption means to different people. It’s clear that people are interpreting that differently, because both progressives and conservatives are afraid of government corruption and clearly they have different ideas of what they’re talking about.

At first blush, that might seem to reflect the partisan political climate. But hasn’t that fear been with us for awhile?

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