Birthers and the paranoid center

posted at 6:23 pm on August 5, 2010 by Karl

CNN released a poll showing 27% of Americans — and 41% of Republicans — say Pres. Obama was probably or definitely not born in the United States. This prompted the usual hand-wringing from some of the usual hand-wringers. The poll — or the persistence of such polls — may say more about the media and certain members of the chattering classes than it says about “birthers.”

The results of such polls are likely overstated. As Scoop Daily explained when the dKos/R2K birther poll was news:

[S]orry to rain on the parade — this poll isn’t such a good indicator of that phenomenon, from a survey research perspective. In fact its descriptive value of birtherism is nearly zero.

Remember, most people in the U.S. have probably never heard of this particular conspiracy theory (Lou Dobbs’s radio audience doesn’t exactly rival the NFL). I doubt 90% of the American population has ever given so much as a thought to Obama’s birth certificate, and for good reason. This is a tiny, lunatic fringe belief.

But if most people have never heard of the topic at hand, how do they answer questions about it? Public opinion research has shown consistently that survey takers almost never skip questions no matter how uninformed they are (and whether or not an option to say “I don’t know” is presented). As a rule, respondents just guess, using whatever contextual clues are available to them. They will reduce the question to analogies and terms they can relate to, which in survey research are called heuristics. So in this instance, a respondent unfamiliar with birtherism will parse the question roughly like:

Do you think Barack Obama (something basic to his character)?

And they will answer the question based on that heuristic. Now most people, regardless of their opinions of Obama politically, will probably grant at least that he’s a carbon-based lifeform with a verifiable lifestory, intellect, and conscience; but there’s a small hard core of conservatives who mistrust the President implicitly, and will either respond reflexively in the negative to anything whatsoever that involves him, or will consciously and forcefully express doubt about any available element of his humanity and honesty. (This is not dissimilar to the way many of us on the left readily argued that George W. Bush was both a coked-out fratboy moron and a nefarious scheming dictator-in-waiting, simultaneously.) Of course this group of snarling partisans is concentrated overwhelmingly in the Republican Party and in the areas where extreme to-the-bone conservatism is most socially acceptible, i.e. the South. That’s the source of these disproportionate “Not sure” and “No” responses.

It has almost nothing, then, to do with birtherism specifically. There’s no material difference between asking people “Do you think Obama was born in the U.S.?” and asking “Do you think Obama tips 15% and likes adorable baby animals?” Or perhaps “Do you think Obama is a werewolf?” You will get comparable results no matter what, perhaps minus the tiny proportion that actually knows and believes the birther theory (and I conjecture that those people would immediately be “werewolfers” too, given the opportunity).

Other examples would be the 2007 Rasmussen poll showing 35% of Democrats were “Truthers,” or the PPP poll showing similar numbers of Republicans and Dems would label Obama or Bush, respectively, as the Anti-Christ. Brendan Nyhan tends to reject heuristics as an explanation, and favors the theory that partisans double down when confronted with contrary information, but the studies cited in his academic paper of the subject produced mixed results. To the extent that the “backfire” theory is in play, it would seem more applicable to truthers (given the long and public investigation into the government’s pre-9/11 failures) than to the birth certificate question. As Steve Benen observes:

For what it’s worth, the reason poll results like these don’t force me into unreachable despair is that I’m not convinced those who are wrong necessarily understand the constitutional implications. For some of those who question the president’s birthplace, it may not matter whether Obama is a natural-born citizen (reality) or a naturalized citizen (fiction). For all I know, some folks find the whole bogus idea charming: “Isn’t America great? Someone can be born in another country, work hard, and eventually become president of the United States.”

Just so (CNN’s poll question gives no context, either). Accordingly, the more interesting question raised by such polls is why people keep conducting them.

In the case of birther polls, the answer is that it feeds the beliefs and biases of the paranoid center that dominates the establishment media. Based on the principles just mentioned, media outlets and bloggers fretting over birthers and exaggerating their numbers are either ignorant of the heuristics problem and (ironically) fill in their negative attitudes about the Right, or (per Nyhan) they know about the heuristics problem and are simply doubling down on their anti-Right bias.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


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CWforFreedom on August 5, 2010 at 6:30 PM says:
He is a citizen as his mother was a citizen.

Those that are born HERE of illegally or undocumented people are NOT citizens.(I should say should not be citizens-even as the Constitution reads ).

I beg to differ because I am experienced in birthrights.

I am married to a proud Naturalized U.S. citizen of Korean descent. I am a U.S. citizen (25 year retired G.I.). My wife and I were married in Korea, only after successfully completing an extensive (1 year) background check by U.S. and Korean Intelligence and Security Services.

A year after we were married we were blessed with our first son and two years later our second son, both born in Korea. CWforFreedom therefore surmise these children were automatically U.S. citizens. I wish it was so easy.

However after each child’s birth they were not considered U.S. Citizens until another round of documentation, required by Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Documents required were: a) their Certificate of Live Birth issued by Suwon Hospital were they were born (document entirely in Korean) b) certified copies of our marriage license, c) positive results of a U.S. military administered paternity test proving we were the boys parents, and d) copies of her’s and my security background checks.

After all of that was submitted and another background check to confirm the facts, the boys issued a certificate of citizenship by birth born abroad. This action allowed the boys to be issued Passports and military I.D. essential to leave Korea if an emergency evacuation of dependents was to occur(all documents must be safely secured in perpetuity).

Those assuming President Obama is a U.S. citizen because his mother is a U.S. citizen does not guarantee citizenship, because his father was a Kenyan citizen. Therefore, what formal agreement between Kenya and the U.S. exist to establish the citizenship of children of Kenyan and U.S. citizens?

The reason for much of the controversy are document(s) issued in Hawaii recognized he was born (but not in what country) and his mother being a properly documented U.S. citizen with whom Obama resided with is a Hawaiian resident/citizen, assume he is a U.S. citizen. To actually prove his citizenship there must be much more documents other than a certificate acknowledging his presence in Hawaii on a given date that would prove which of his parents nationality trump the other.

There has to be more documents at least (the U.S. Embassy files can be checked) or Kenyan/Kenyan documents must exist to declare President Obama s citizen of a particular country. Why are those claiming his citizenship is based on a simple document that shows he resided in Hawaii at a particular period of time. What’s the problem with producing those papers, if they exist?

If the President and his supporters claim privacy than he and Congress had better watch the amount of data they are culling from existing U.S. citizens.

MSGTAS on August 6, 2010 at 12:17 PM

A year after we were married we were blessed with our first son and two years later our second son, both born in Korea.

MSGTAS on August 6, 2010 at 12:17 PM

You are conflating born on US soil to born on foregin soil.

Those born on US soil are automatic citizens, regardless of parental lineage.

rukiddingme on August 6, 2010 at 12:36 PM

foregin = foreign

Oops!

rukiddingme on August 6, 2010 at 12:46 PM

Those who use the “birther” epithet to denigrate people who are doing nothing more than demanding what the Constitution and laws of the United States demand are either closet seditionists (since they want to undermine and change our government to one that has no national requirements or identity) or they are just stupid, hypocritical and cowardly. The Constitution and laws of the U.S. require that the POTUS be a natural born U.S. citizen. There are reasons for this requirement–it has to do with the ability to vet a person’s past (i.e., better chance of evaluating whether a candidate has been indoctrinated or coopted by an enemy or simply foreign power) and most importantly, natural, human loyalty to home, family, and community. It is more than evident that this law has been flouted by Obama, the Democrat Party and the federal and state officials who were charged to enforce the laws of election qualification, but utterly failed or refused to do so. There was no reason to be “paranoid,” before it was discovered that truth was being hidden and that the officials who were trusted to make sure it wasn’t have been either complicit or asleep at the switch. The birth certificate issue is of critical importance as regards the legality of Obama’s presidency, but more important for future elections and the integrity of our Constitution and laws going forward. Shall we just blow it all off, if we’re worried it’ll make us seem “silly” or “petty” or “paranoid?” Or shall we stand by the fundamental laws of our nation and against both enemies and incompetents who would cause or let our nation degenerate into balkanization?

Ay Uaxe on August 6, 2010 at 2:10 PM

Hey rukiddingme, Read this, and then stfu.

http://birthers.org/misc/logic.htm

I had another one that went into extensive detail regarding the history of the “Natural Born Citizen” requirement, with supporting documents, but the link is now dead. Fortunately, I kept a copy of the entire document, but to post it, I have to find someone to host it.

In any case, learn your stuff before opining.

DiogenesLamp on August 6, 2010 at 3:41 PM

Strategy Backfire:

These numbers are astoundingly bad for Obama, and reflect a strategy which has worked in the short run but failed miserably in the long run.

There was an interesting but long forgotten poll by Democratic pollster PPP taken in October 2009, asking the provocative question, “Do you think that Barack Obama loves America?”

The responses were as follows: Yes (59%), No (26%), Not Sure (14%). I have not seen a similar question polled since then, but I would venture to guess the numbers would be even more negative. But even using those almost year-old numbers, the picture is bleak as a President when 40% of the population either thinks you do not love America, or is not sure.

Put it all together, and Obama has disconnected at a fundamental level from almost half the population, or that population has disconnected from him.

… Clearly, the strategy of stifling the debate has not worked.

LarryD on August 6, 2010 at 4:04 PM

Hey rukiddingme, Read this,

Your premise is based on John Jay’s letter. In the spirit of his letter, natural born citizen may only mean a citizen of both jus soli and jus sanguinis . A citizen lacking either can not be considered to have full allegiance.

James Madison said this about allegiance:

“It is an established maxim that birth is a criterion of allegiance. Birth however derives its force sometimes from place and sometimes from parentage, but in general place is the most certain criterion; it is what applies in the United States; it will therefore be unnecessary to investigate any other.”

James Madison, The Founders’ Constitution Volume 2, Article 1, Section 2, Clause 2, Document 6 (1789)

You state that the one and only definition of natural born citizen at the time of the ratification was da Vattel’s 1797 definition. How did the framers obtain this version 10 years before it was written?

The first SCOTUS case you provide is The Venus. This case cites da Vattel, but interestingly enough cites the earlier version of da Vattel that refers to natives, not the 1797 version that specifically states natural born.

Do you see the word native in the Constitution? Me either.

The second SCOTUS case you provide is MINOR V. HAPPERSETT. This case does not exclude a jus soli citizen from the natural born status. It merely states there may be doubt about a jus soli citizen being considered a native or natural born citizen, but For the purposes of this case it is not necessary to solve these doubts. .

Jus soli standing has not been eliminated as natural born.

Your third source is a quote from Congressman Bingham defining natural born citizen as one having both jus soli and jus sanguinis standing.

Do you see his definition in the Constitution? Me either.

SCOTUS case US v Ark contains this statement about Lynch v. Clark:

That all children born within the dominion of the United States of foreign parents holding no diplomatic office became citizens at the time of their birth does not appear to have been contested or doubted until more than fifty years after the adoption of the Constitution, when the matter was elaborately argued in the Court of Chancery of New York and decided upon full consideration by Vice Chancellor Sandford in favor of their citizenship. Lynch v. Clark, (1844) 1 Sandf.Ch. 583.

Guess what Lynch v. Clark says?

“6. Upon principle, therefore, I can entertain no doubt, but that by the law of the United States, every person born within the dominions and allegience of the United States, whatever were the situation of his parents, is a natural born citizen.

Natural born citizen has been affirmed as jus soli standing.

and then stfu.

It is amusing that those claiming to be the great defenders of the Constitution are willing to discard it whenever it serves their purpose.

I had another one that went into extensive detail regarding the history of the “Natural Born Citizen” requirement, with supporting documents, but the link is now dead. Fortunately, I kept a copy of the entire document, but to post it, I have to find someone to host it.

If you say so.

In any case, learn your stuff before opining.
DiogenesLamp on August 6, 2010 at 3:41 PM

I was thinking the same thing about you.

rukiddingme on August 7, 2010 at 1:57 AM

I was thinking the same thing about you.

rukiddingme on August 7, 2010 at 1:57 AM

Okay, so now I know. You are an enemy agent.(Liberal Troll) No one else would know so much without being on the opposing team.(I’ve previously argued the points you brought out, but only with OTHER enemy agents.)

Your job is to infiltrate conservative websites and obfuscate the truth. Since the truth is not well taught, it requires little effort to confuse the issue.

Next time I see your name, i’ll make an effort to let others know what you’re about.

Beyond that, if you want to tango with me, you’re gonna have to bring something better than a bunch of subsequent court cases.

DiogenesLamp on August 7, 2010 at 12:31 PM

Okay, so now I know.

You now know President Obama, having been born in Hawaii, is a natural born citizen. Cool!

You are an enemy agent.(Liberal Troll) No one else would know so much without being on the opposing team. (I’ve previously argued the points you brought out, but only with OTHER enemy agents.)

My team that would know so much must be enemy agent Liberal Trolls. Your team that would not know so much must not be enemy agent Liberal Trolls.

Where is the genius sharrukin to point out your logical fallacies?

Your job is to infiltrate conservative websites and obfuscate the truth.

I was unaware of said job. How much does it pay?

Since the truth is not well taught, it requires little effort to confuse the issue.

Your attempt to confuse the issue required little effort? Oh well, you still failed.

Next time I see your name, i’ll make an effort to let others know what you’re about.

Ditto.

Beyond that, if you want to tango with me, you’re gonna have to bring something better than a bunch of subsequent court cases.
DiogenesLamp on August 7, 2010 at 12:31 PM

We each cited court cases as evidence to support our arguments. Now court cases are not good enough evidence for you?

It is amusing that those claiming to be the great defenders of the Constitution are willing to discard it whenever it serves their purpose.

rukiddingme on August 7, 2010 at 2:46 PM

The fact that your still looking at this is further proof to me that you are on the other side.

Firstly, court cases only mean that Judges decided something. It doesn’t mean judges decided correctly, but most people think that it does.

Court cases are not PROOF that something is true. This is a Fallacy known as Appeal to Authority. The “Authority” might have the force of law, but that does not make it factually correct. You want real understanding? Go to contemporary documents.

Let us start out with Article II itself.

“No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States …”

The fact that it uses the terms “natural born Citizen” and just plain “Citizen” demonstrates that the two terms are not equivalent. Had they been equivalent, there would have been no need to use two different terms.

NONE of the court cases you cited address the term “Natural Born Citizen.” The court cases merely declare someone a “Citizen.”

The reason *I* cited a webpage that refers to court cases is because most people who haven’t delved into this issue deeply would find that “good enough.”

Someone that has RESEARCHED this issue, and STILL remains on the other side is pushing an agenda, either paid or voluntary. The Evidence that has been discovered to support MY side, completely swamps the crap that has been dribbled out by YOUR side to obfuscate the truth.

The “Birthers.org” website has got some good information on it, but there are several more websites that have even better stuff. From what I can tell by your responses, you didn’t even understand what you read at Birthers.org, or, more likely you’ve already seen this stuff, but are actively working for your side.

DiogenesLamp on August 7, 2010 at 5:01 PM

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