Who is a natural born citizen?

Who is a natural born citizen?

American attitudes to who is and who is not a natural born citizen are as varied as the country itself, with partisan disagreement on whether a child born in the US to immigrant parents is a natural born American

Partisanship plays a major role in how Americans decide who should be eligible for the Presidency, and the concept of what being “natural born” means also plays a role.  The U.S. Constitution, in Article II, states that only “natural born” citizens are eligible to serve (it also sets an age limit and grandfathered in anyone who was a citizen at the time of the adoption of the Constitution).  In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, saying someone is eligible to serve depends on who you are.

Nearly everyone agrees that someone born in the United States with two citizen parents is a natural born American, and nearly everyone agrees that someone born outside the United States to NON-citizen parents is not. About three in four – Republicans, Independents and Democrats – believe having only one citizen parent and being born in the United States qualifies you as natural born. 

If you are born outside the United States, most Americans say you need to have two American-citizen parents.  That would make John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, natural born, as his U.S. citizen U.S. military parents were stationed in the Panama Canal Zone when he was born.  But more than half say that if you are born outside the United States, and only one parent is a citizen, you are not a natural born American, 

That means more than half of Republicans (53%) would disqualify Texas Senator Ted Cruz from the Presidency on principle.  Cruz was born in Canada to a mother who was an American citizen, while his father was not.   But fewer than one in four Republicans think Cruz was born outside the country; only 10% know his mother was a citizen and his father was not. 

Of course, some of those Republicans may be answering the question by making a statement about President Barack Obama, and not Ted Cruz.  Nearly half of Republicans say they believe the President was born outside the United States, not in Hawaii, and most of those say his mother was a citizen and his father not.  

Consequently, most Republicans say Cruz is legally eligible to be President, while President Obama is not.

Tea Party Republicans are even more sure Cruz is eligible (68% think that), but most of them don’t know he was born outside the United States.  Tea Party Republican say the President was born outside the United States, and less than a third think he is legally eligible to serve as President.  

There are large party differences for one option.  Is someone a natural born American who was born in the United States, but to two immigrant parents?  Democrats say they are, while Republicans disagree.  Parties have nominated children of immigrants for the Presidency (Michael Dukakis in 1988), but no child of two immigrants has been elected President since Andrew Jackson in 1828 (and he was born in the Carolinas before the adoption of the Constitution, and therefore grandfathered in to presidential eligibility). 

Florida Senator Marco Rubio was born in the United States, but his parents, immigrants from Cuba, were not yet citizens when he was born.  Half of Republicans say that would disqualify someone from being “natural born,” as the Constitution requires to run for President.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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Kathy Frankovic

KATHLEEN A. FRANKOVIC is one of the world’s leading experts in public opinion polling. She has been an election and polling consultant for CBS News and other research organizations.

She speaks and writes internationally about public opinion research, journalism and elections as an invited speaker in places as diverse as Italy, Jordan, Hong Kong, Manila, Mexico, Lisbon, Chile and India. In 2009 she retired after more than 30 years at CBS News.

She received an A.B. from Cornell University in 1968, and a Ph.D. in political science from Rutgers University in 1974. Before joining CBS News, she taught political science at the University of Vermont, and has also held visiting professorships at Cornell and at the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania.