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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Americans' Beliefs About Obama's Birth

President Obama released his “long form” birth certificate today.

The discussion of Obama's birthplace is not new; it has occupied the attention of Obama critics since the 2008 election to one degree or the other.  More recently, however, the discussion has ramped up as a result of businessman and TV personality, and possible presidential candidate, Donald Trump's high-profile focus on the issue. 

But Obama and his advisers most probably made today's decision to release the birth document not so much because Trump was focusing on it -- but because it appeared that the allegations were evidently taking hold in the mindset of a not-insignificant swath of Americans. 

The developing wisdom in American politics today is that allegations or attacks that are not directly and forcefully addressed can take on a life of their own -- no matter how spurious.  And in this instance, public opinion polls -- including our recent USA Today/Gallup poll -- show that a sizable segment of the U.S. population believe that Obama was probably or definitely not born in the U.S.  Hence, the decision by the Obama team to address the issue, rather than ignore it or deem it too irresponsible to dignify with a response.

To get to the data, our April 20-23 USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 9% of all Americans say that Obama was “definitely” not born in the U.S. Another 15% say that Obama was “probably” not born in the U.S. That’s about a quarter of the U.S. adult population, 24% who have doubts about Obama's being "natural born," the constitutional requirement for a president.

That contrasts with 38% of Americans who say Obama was “definitely” born in the U.S. and another 18% who say he was “probably” born in the U.S. Another 20% said that they didn’t know enough to say or refused to answer.

Who were those 24% who suspect Obama was not born in the U.S.?

Beliefs about Obama's birthplace are certainly related to education. Although 13% of those with post-graduate educations say that Obama was probably or definitely not born in the U.S., that’s half the 28% of those with some college and 26% of those with only a high school education or less who believe Obama was not native born. 

Beliefs about Obama’s birth are strongly related to partisanship: 43% of Republicans say that Obama was not born in the U.S., including 15% who are definite in their beliefs and another 28% who say “probably.”

Of some concern to the White House and Obama’s 2012 re-election strategists is the fact that 20% of independents believe Obama was probably or definitely not born in the U.S. Nine percent of Democrats agree. 

Naturally enough, this partisanship connection means there is a connection between beliefs in Obama's place of birth and intent to vote for Obama. Seventy-five percent of registered voters who say Obama was born in U.S. would consider voting for him. Fifteen percent of those who say he was not born in the U.S. would consider voting for Obama, while 85% say they definitely would not.

Partisanship is related to ideology.  Thus, 36% of conservatives say Obama was definitely or probably not born in the U.S, compared with 17% of moderates and 13% of liberals.

A striking 47% of Americans who view themselves as “very” conservative -- about 13% of the adult population in the survey -- say that Obama was not born in the U.S. A slightly smaller 43% of conservative Republicans agree.

It is not surprising to find a strong correlation between opinion of Trump and views of Obama’s place of birth: 35% of those with a favorable opinion of Trump say Obama was not born in this country (probably or definitely) compared to 14% of those with an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

Tea Party support is also, though not surprisingly, related to Obama birth beliefs. Almost half, 46%, of Tea Party supporters say that Obama was definitely (17%) or probably (29%) not born in the U.S., compared with 5% of Tea Party opponents, and 19% of those who are neither supporters nor opponents of the Tea Party.

We thought some of the explanation for these beliefs could be a result of the fact that people are confused about, or have no knowledge of, where a lot of celebrities are born.

So we included this same “birther” question in the survey asking about Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. According to Sarah Palin’s PAC website (one has to be careful in attributing these claims these days) Palin was born in Sandpoint, Idaho. According to Trump was born in Queens, New York.

Well, 7% of Americans we interviewed this past week say that Trump was not born in Queens, but was rather born outside the U.S. (4% probably, 3% definitely). Another 31% say they don’t know enough to say if Trump was born in the U.S. Only 3% say that Palin was not born in the U.S., although 25% say they don’t know enough to say.

Of interest is the fact that 10% of those who think that Obama was born in another country also think that Trump was also born in another country.

What does all of this tell us?  Well, as I mentioned above, the data certainly highlight the political reality of the birther accusations.  As wise social psychologists have said for a long time, if people perceive a situation to be real, the consequences are real.  The Obama administration has apparently come to realize that a sizable segment of Americans are defining the birther situation as real and that this could have real consequences -- particularly with the 2012 election looming.  Hence today's actions.


Anonymous said...
April 29, 2011 at 11:31 AM  

Interesting poll. However there is an 800 pound elephant in the room that you neglected to touch on. Although it would be difficult to conduct, I would have liked to have seen this poll contrasted with those same polled individuals views on African-Americans, considering the strong component of race in American society. I suspect there would be a surprising correlation.

Berenice said...
September 22, 2011 at 11:23 PM  

Trump is trying to be a smart aleck again. However, Obama acted wisely by deciding to address the situation. Obama did not act upon the it because Trump brought attention to it, more so he released his birth certificate again to finally be able to shift the attention elsewhere. Also to give Americans closure that he was indeed born in the States.

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