Friday, February 18, 2011
My first reaction to stories about the Public Policy Polling survey that found that 51 percent of GOP primary voters believe President Obama was not born in the United States was disbelief. Informed Americans understand that Barack Obama is American-born. Conspiracy theories that suggest otherwise are too tortured to take seriously. And I'm sick of the left -- PPP is a Democratic polling firm, if with a reputation for accuracy -- flogging a story that makes Republicans look like rubes.
MSNBC talking heads live to hype birther stories because, it seems, they so want Republicans to believe the conspiracy theory. They've helped make it a story that won't go away.
GOP pollster Steve Kinney had the same initial reaction to the PPP poll. "I find it surprising that number is that high," he said. "In California, where I do most of my work, I don't think it would be that high."
Besides, I wondered, wouldn't some people tell a pollster that they thought Obama was born abroad merely to be contrary? PPP Director Tom Jensen conceded that some voters might answer no when asked if they think Obama was born in the United States, not because they believe he was born abroad, but as a proxy to voice "a general dislike" of the president.
"There may be enough people playing with the poll that it's not 51 percent," Jensen noted, "but it's definitely over 40." In 2009, his firm conducted deep testing into birther beliefs and concluded that a "decent amount" of respondents didn't believe Hawaii -- where Obama was born -- is part of the United States. Another 10 percent thought Obama was born in Indonesia, where he lived as a child after his mother married stepfather Lolo Soetoro, and 7 percent thought Obama was born in his father's homeland, Kenya.
Why would the number of birthers be growing?
The left likes to blame GOP leaders for not categorically denying birther theories.
On "Meet the Press" Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner said he believes Obama was born in Hawaii. In response to a Fox News clip in which Iowa voters said they believe Obama is a Muslim, Boehner also said he believes the president is a Christian. That wasn't enough for "Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory, who argued Boehner had a "responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance."
What is Gregory's responsibility? It very well might be that more voters believe the birther/Muslim tales because the media won't stop reporting on them. Jensen agreed that "the fact that (the birther story) hasn't gone away" might be a reason it is "a more commonly held view."
Why even ask the birther question? Jensen noted that his firm has a long-held interest in "the measure of extremism in the American public." PPP polls also have asked if voters believe President George W. Bush "intentionally allowed the 9/11 attacks to take place because he wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East." In September 2009, 27 percent of Obama voters answered yes.
"The truther accusation ultimately is much more malicious than the birther accusation," Jensen observed. PPP has tracked truthers and birthers to test the public's willingness to demonize a president. In this country today, a nasty rumor has everything but brakes.
COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentary
See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter, the Rasmussen Report on radio and other media outlets.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on Election 2012, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.