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Disturbing poll on beliefs about Obama's birth

07/31/2009 12:09 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Brendan Nyhan Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College

As Emily notes, a new Daily Kos-sponsored poll from Research 2000 finds that only 77% of Americans, and 42% of Republicans, believe Obama was born in this country -- a result that suggests the Obama birth certificate myth has circulated more widely than previously thought.

Here are the findings in a bit more detail, including partisan and regional breakdowns which show that the false belief that Obama was not born in this country is most commonly held by Republicans and residents of the South:

Research 2000 for Daily Kos. 7/27-30. All adults. MoE 2%

Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?

Yes      77

No       11

Not sure 12

         Yes   No   Not sure

Dem       93    4    3

Rep       42   28   30

Ind       83    8    9

Northeast 93    4    3

South     47   23   30

Midwest   90    6    4

West      87    7    6

To put these numbers in perspective, we can compare them to the most recent Pew poll on the prevalence of the false belief that Obama is a Muslim (click on the chart for a larger version):

Muslim-v-noncitizen

As you can see, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the number of correct responses is much higher on the citizenship question than the religion question. On the other hand, the proportion of incorrect answers is also much higher on the citizenship question among Republicans, which suggests that the encouragement of the birth certificate myth by conservative pundits and Republican politicians has begun to activate the GOP base on this issue. I'm not sure if Michael Steele is going to be able to make this "unnecessary distraction" go away any time soon.

(Methodological details: The chart above describes responses saying Obama was born in the U.S. or not as "citizen"/"non-citizen," which should be interpreted as shorthand for whether he is believed to be a natural-born citizen. It also groups all responses other than "Christian" and "Muslim" from the Pew poll into a "Don't know" category, including the 6% of respondents who refused to answer the question among the general population and the unknown proportion of Republicans who refused to do so.)