The Birthers are (Still) Back

For the last four years, Barack Obama has been plagued by rumors that he is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and, as a result, is not eligible to serve as president. These rumors continue to show surprising resilience 

As I showed in a Model Politics post from February, even the release of Obama’s long form birth certificate in April 2011 did little to change the public’s beliefs regarding Obama’s citizenship. While rejection of the Birther rumor increased greatly in the immediate wake of the release of the document, a mere nine months later, the public had seemingly forgot what it learned.

The January 2012 YouGov poll I reported in February demonstrated that the power of Obama’s action was short lived. Two-thirds of the initial 12-point increase in the percentage of respondents who said that Obama was born in the United States disappeared between April 2011 and January 2012.

Polling conducted last week suggests that whatever remaining effect of the release of the birth certificate that persisted through January is completely gone today. From June 30-July 2, 2012, YouGov surveyed 1000 Americans and asked whether “Barack Obama was born in the United States of America.” In the table below, I present these results, alongside the earlier polls that I presented in my January post.

 "Barack Obama was born in the United States": Full Sample
April 2011 January 2012    July 2012
Before release of birth certificate    After release of birth certificate   
 
True 55% 67% 59% 55%
False 15% 13% 17% 20%
Not sure 30% 20% 24% 25%

These polls demonstrate that the public is back where it was before Obama released his long form birth certificate. In April 2011 55% of the public believed that Obama was born in the United States. Today 55% of the public believes that he was born in the United States.

As I noted back in February, the incidence of Birtherism is especially pronounced among Republicans. Immediately following the release of the birth certificate, twice as many Republicans believed Obama was born in the United States than thought he was not born in the United States. Today, by contrast, a plurality of Republicans believes that Obama was not born in the United States.

 "Barack Obama was born in the United States": Republicans Only
April 2011 January 2012    July 2012
Before release of birth certificate    After release of birth certificate   
 
True 30% 47% 27% 31%
False 25% 23% 37% 33%
Not sure 45% 29% 35% 36%

Of course, it is not simply Republicans who believe that Obama was not born in the United States. In each of the four surveys presented here, a few Democrats claimed that Obama was not born in the United States. I also looked at the opinions of political Independents – those citizens who do not identify with or lean towards one of the two major parties. Though a majority of these pure Independents affirm that Obama is a native born citizen, around 20 percent of these citizens currently believe that Obama was not born in the United States, up from about 10 percent in January. Given the small number of these pure Independents, I wouldn’t make too much of this difference – with a small sample, any apparent change could simply be an artifact of sampling error. But the larger point remains: Birtherism is not simply a condition of the Republican party.

These results again demonstrate that rumors and innuendo remain powerful forces in American politics. Once set loose, they are hard to undo.

 


Please read our community rules before posting.
comments powered by Disqus

Authors

Adam Berinsky

Adam J. Berinsky is a Professor of Political Science at MIT. Berinsky received his PhD. from the University of Michigan in 2000. He is a specialist in the fields of political behavior and public opinion.  He is the author of In Time of War: Understanding American Public Opinion from World War II to Iraq (University of Chicago Press, 2009) and Silent Voices: Public Opinion and Political Participation in America (Princeton University Press, 2004) and has published articles in many scholarly journals. He has won several scholarly awards, is the recipient of grants from the National Science Foundation, and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.