Poll: Most Republicans Doubt Obama's Citizenship, As Birtherism Becomes a Screen for Ideology

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 15 2011 11:06 AM

Poll: Most Republicans Doubt Obama's Citizenship, As Birtherism Becomes a Screen for Ideology

The non-partisan-but-usually-hired-by-Democrats firm Public Policy Polling is out with more data on what Republicans -- well, 400 "Republican primary voters nationwide" -- think about Barack Obama's citizenship. They have their doubts!

A 51% majority of national GOP primary voters erroneously think President Obama was not born in the U.S. 28% know that he was.

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Another way of putting this is slightly more than one in four Republicans believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States. Does that mean that 72 percent of Republicans think Obama should be disqualified from the presidency? No. It suggests that birtherism has become another screen for extreme partisanship. Look at the number I've broken out to the top right of the page. The Republicans who are most convinced that Obama was born in the United States are cool to Sarah Palin, with only 41 percent seeing her favorably. The Republicans who don't think he was born here have an 83 percent favorable view of Palin. The numbers aren't as intense for other candidates, but the mostly pattern holds -- the more you doubt Obama's citizenship, the better you like Republicans. Birthers have a 59/19 favorable view of Gingrich; non-birthers are at 46/40. Birthers have a 64/12 favorable view of Huckabee; for non-birthers it's 50/20.

This doesn't occur in a vacuum. Palin and Gingrich, more than other Republicans, have criticized Obama for policies they trace back to a lack of faith in America and its institutions. (It was Gingrich , remember, who promoted Dinesh D'Souza's silly "Obama as Kenyan anti-colonialist" theory.) Birtherism, in this instance, is a logical response to the stimuli of 1) conservative opinion leaders saying that Obama's policies amount to un-American socialism and 2) Republican leaders punting when asked whether Obama was born in the United States.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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