Thursday, February 17, 2011

More on What Birthers (Might) Believe

Since I wrote on this earlier in the week, I'll pass along some relevant links, and renew my previous plea to reporters and/or pollsters to investigate this more carefully. John Quiggin has a long, interesting post in which he interprets birtherism as a "shibboleth" -- I'll let you read the whole thing, but it's intriguing. Jon Chait responds by, in part, raising our old friend the closed information feedback loop. And Dave Weigel's thoughts about birtherism as a partisan marker are worth reading, too.

I should also pull up from comments tesibra's reporting that there's a large strain of birther belief that fully accepts that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, but believes that he is nevertheless not a "natural born citizen" because of a strained reading of the Constitution -- one that has the added benefit (from one point of view) of also disqualifying many Mexican-Americans from citizenship.

I'll just mention again that while all of this is interesting, it's almost completely speculative, at least at the mass level. What is clear is that Republicans, and especially the most partisan Republicans, have learned to answer polling questions with birther answers. As far as I can tell from the discussion, however, we really know very little about what most birthers actually think beyond how they will answer those questions. As I argued, there really is a range of possible beliefs here that would generate those answers, some of which are pretty disturbing (in that imply either rabid conspiracy thinking or rabid racism or both) while others are largely benign. And again, see the links above and comments on my previous post for even more plausible speculation -- but it really is speculation, as far as I can tell.

I'm all for the kinds of interpretive analysis that Quiggin presents in his post, but I also think that there's an empirical question here once we get beyond the elite level for which more information would be very helpful, whether such information is gathered by reporters doing follow-ups to polling, or by someone (maybe these folks?) doing a more extensive survey.


  1. Snap! Obviously we are thinking along very similar lines. I agree that empirical research informed by sociological/anthropological understanding is what is needed here, at least outside the elite. But direct observation of the elite is also interesting.

  2. I'm not sure exactly what question(s) the surveys are asking, but here's what I think the question should be:

    The Constitution of the United States specifies that the President must be a natural born citizen of the United States. Do you believe Obama meets this requirement?

    [rotate first two responses]

    a. I believe Obama is a natural born citizen of the United States.

    b. I believe Obama is not a natural born citizen of the United States.

    c. I am not sure what the phrase "natural born citizen of the United States" means.

    d. I know what the phrase "natural born citizen of the United States" means, but I do not know if Obama meets that requirement or not.

  3. P.S. It would also be interesting to ask respondents what they think the phase "natural born citizen" means in the Constitution. Some people seem to think it means you have to have been born in the USA to two parents who are US citizens.

  4. 1. As I mentioned in the previous thread, it would be really interesting to see a regional breakdown of birtherism. I suspect that, in terms of popular support, it is overwhelmingly (though not entirely) a white southern phenomenon.

    2. For a different reason, I happened to view the Wikipedia entry on presidential birthplaces ( ) yesterday. At the very end, rather incongruously, is a statement that Chester Arthur and Barack Obama are the only presidents born after 1776 who qualified at birth as British subjects as well as American citizens. Not being an immigration lawyer, I confess I don't really understand the logic here - if the son of British subject is automatically a British subject, and since every president has been ultimately of British (or pre-1921 Irish) origin (except maybe Van Buren, the Roosevelts, Eisenhower, Hoover), doesn't that mean every president was born a British subject? Just askin'...

  5. It never ceases to amaze me when all Hell breaks loose on a coverup, the left comes out swinging their propaganda to distract or confuse.

    Some say they believe O is a NBC. Its not what you believe, it's what is. This is always the problem the left has they can't seperate fact from fiction.

    The debate is over, Obama is not eligible to be President, & by his spending millions to seal his records from the American people this fraud is guilty as charged.

    Some idiot mentioned most birthers are from the South, so he apparently is an Obama Zombie. This is how this fraud slid into office.

    O was born in Kenya, so I guess you want to call the Kenya officials racist do you? What useless idiots on the radical left.

  6. Anonymous/ Anus: Sone, snore, boring next.


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