America’s Embarrassing Dirty Little Secret: The Lunatic Fringe are Among the Mainstream
Obama may have won the election, but the loopy conspiracy theorists continue to grow
By Nate Thayer
While President Obama’s victory on Tuesday may seem reassuring to many partisan supporters, lying dormant and perhaps further invigorated a solid half of Americans are decidedly unhappy. More importantly, a sizeable percentage of these are convinced of a dark conspiracy that should be viewed with alarm. While easy to dismiss as the loopy fringe, numerous polls show, as right wing rocker Ted Nugent tweeted on election night, “Pimps Whores & Welfare Brats” Voted For “Economic & Spiritual Suicide.”
Donald Trump tweeted even before Obama’s victory was confirmed the election was “a total sham and a travesty” and once Obama’s reelection was projected “our nation is a once great nation divided” and “the world is laughing at us” and called for a “revolution in this country.”
While exit polls show Obama won overwhelmingly among black voters, Latinos and other minorities, increased his support with young voters, and won a significant majority of women, the fact is Mitt Romney was preferred by a majority of white voters, men, and everyone 45 and older.
At the forefront of perhaps the most instructive and enduring debates are the issues of whether President Obama is a secret Muslim and contentions that he was not born in the United States and therefore ineligible to be president.
Millions of Americans believe barrack Obama faked his own birth certificate, was born in Kenya, and is a secret practicing Muslim extremist. The logical inference and corollary is Obama’s entire life has been a fraud in order to commit treason on the United States.
This might appear to be what it in fact is—a loopy and paranoid conspiracy theory properly relegated to the lunatic fringe. But consider this: More people think Obama is Muslim now than four years ago. Despite mountains of documentation and research, four years has done nothing to change the beliefs of a significant percentage of the American public that President Barack Obama practices Muslim faith. According to a May 2012 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 16 percent of Americans — one in six — believe Obama is a Muslim. According to a Pew Research Center survey, that is an increase from 12 percent during the 2008 campaign.
A July 2012 Pew Research Poll showed Conservatives were more likely to think Obama is Muslim now than in 2008. Nearly half, 49 percent, of registered voters surveyed correctly identified Obama as Christian, while 17 percent thought he was Muslim. In October 2008, 55 percent of registered voters identified him as Christian and 12 percent identified him as Muslim.
Those who are convinced Obama is Muslim today are starkly increased among registered Republicans, especially conservative Republicans. In 2008, among both conservative Republicans and Republicans overall, 16 percent said Mr. Obama was Muslim. Now, 30 percent of Republicans and 34 percent of conservative Republicans think he is Muslim.
But even more stark is that a quarter of both Republican (25 percent) and evangelical (24 percent) voters think Obama is a Muslim and only 40 percent of voters correctly identified that he was Christian. Only one in four Americans correctly stated that he is a Protestant.
And equally as pervasive is the belief that Obama has concocted an elaborate fraud and in fact was not born in the U.S.
Millions of Republicans still believe that his birth certificate is a fake. A poll taken weeks ago in October 2012, showed that the so-called ‘birthers’ are no fringe lunatics. MIT political science professor Adam J. Berinsky released results from a YouGov survey of 1,000 Americans, 73 percent of self-identified Republicans and 40 percent of Americans overall either don’t believe Obama was born in the U.S. or are not sure. For both Republicans and Americans overall, belief that Obama is foreign-born was at a high point in September, just 37 days before the Nov. 6 presidential election.
Obama has been plagued by rumors that he is not a natural-born citizen and, as a result, is not eligible to serve as president under Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution. Since the start of Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, claims that he was born outside of the United States have grown. In spite of overwhelming evidence he was born in the United States, the “birther” myth has persisted. The evidence includes his 1961 birth announcement, printed in two Hawaii newspapers. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama released a computer copy of his birth certificate on a campaign website. In 2009, the director of the Hawaii State Department of Health verified that Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born citizen. But immediately after the 2009 public release of his birth certificate, a Gallup poll reported that only 47 percent thought Obama was definitely born in the U.S. and 18 percent said he “probably was.”
In June 2010, a 60 Minutes-Vanity Fair poll showed only 39 percent of respondents believed Obama was born in Hawaii as he claimed in his book. 63 percent stated they believed he was born in the U.S., but that included those who said they believe he was born in Kansas or some other unknown state, which still would conflict with Obama’s story. Later in 2010, a poll by CNN said 6 of 10 people were uncertain Obama was born in the U.S. The poll said only 42 percent believe Obama “definitely” was born in the U.S.
The White House released a computer PDF copy of Obama’s long-form birth certificate on April 27, 2011.
In June 2011, a Gallup poll showed that four years after Obama in a widely publicized news event confirmed his Christian faith; four in 10 Americans still couldn’t accurately name his religious adherence. When asked, “Do you happen to know the religious faith of Barack Obama?” 44 percent of respondents said “No/Don’t know.” At the time, 34 percent said that they believed him to be Christian of some sort, with 11 percent choosing “Muslim.”
Despite the president’s repeated self-identification as a Christian, only a third of respondents to a 2012 survey correctly identified him as such, while slightly more, 35 percent, said he had ‘no religion’. The survey also showed that some 39 percent of Americans believed Obama was not born in the United States, while only 49 percent answered that he was.
Earlier in 2012, a Public Policy Polling study found that the majority of likely Republican voters in Mississippi believe that Obama is a Muslim.
But in July, 2012 the MIT poll showed 20 percent of independent voters believe Obama is not a native born citizen, showing the firmly debunked theory is not limited to the Republican Party.”
An April 2011 CBS News/ New York Times poll showed one in four Americans thought Obama was not born in U.S. Among Republicans, 45 percent believed he was born in another country, as did 45 percent of Tea Party supporters. While 25 percent of all Americans in this poll say Mr. Obama was born outside the U.S., 57 percent correctly said he was born in the United States. Another 18 percent said they did not know where he was born. Among Republicans, 33 percent said Mr. Obama was born in the U.S., and 22 percent said they did not know. Thirty-four percent of Tea Party supporters said the president was born in the U.S., while 21 percent said they didn’t know.
Another poll conducted in March 2012 among Republican Party voters during the presidential state primary campaigns in three battleground states asked whether voters think Obama was born in the United States. Thirty-seven percent of Republican primary voters in Ohio, 38 percent in Georgia and 45 percent in Tennessee said they don’t believe he was. In addition, 20% more–1 in 5—said they were not sure they believe him.
Half of registered voters say they want Congress to investigate Obama’s eligibility to serve as president. Even among Democrats, more than one in four – 28 percent – said they were in favor of an inquiry, as do 43 percent of independents and 77 percent of Republicans.
An October 2009 Angus Reid Global Monitor poll found 3 in 10 Americans believed Obama to be a foreigner. Then, 13 percent of Democratic Party supporters believed Obama was not born in the U.S., 25 percent of independents and 51 percent of Republicans. Then in January 2010, a WND/Wenzel Poll showed one-third of voters did not believe Obama was a “legitimate president,” with another 15.8 percent saying they were not sure. 51.5 percent said they believed the president legitimate, but even 14.6 percent of the Democrats said they did not consider him legitimate.
At the time of this year’s Democratic convention in June, after years of being dissected and documented, these embarrassing myths continue to be trafficked as fact among mainstream Americans. So the question is why such a wide swath of Americans who are not clinically diagnosed as suffering from delusions or paranoia, stubbornly insist on believing such proven poppycock. A reasonable guess is the president’s “otherness.” Obama is black and has a funny name and millions of white Americans are still not convinced he deserve to be in the White House. .
A USA Today/ Gallup survey shows that 25 percent of adult Americans continue to believe Mr. Obama was born somewhere outside the United States. Among Republicans, the figure is much higher. Dismissing what really is evidence so clear it is absurd the issue is still a matter of discussion showing Obama was born in Honolulu; millions want to believe that the man who occupies the White House is there illegitimately.
Barack Obama’s father was born in Kenya, a member of the Luo tribe who are mainly animal herders. He excelled academically and awarded a scholarship to the University of Hawaii in 1959, where he met Stanley Ann Dunham, a white woman. They were married the following year, and Obama was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961. Birth announcements appeared the following day in newspapers. Obama senior neglected to tell his new wife he was already married and he left Obama’s mother and his son in June 1962 for Harvard University, essentially never to return to the president’s life. The last time he saw his son was during a visit to Hawaii in 1971, when Obama was 10 years old. Barack Obama, Sr., died in a car crash in Kenya in 1982.
His mother married again, to another foreigner and Muslim and moved to Indonesia.
For many Americans President Obama is viewed as someone not quite American.
And hence, according to a current Pew Research Group poll, 18 percent of adult Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. 30 percent of Republicans believe he is a Muslim.
But Mitt Romney also shares with Obama a sentiment of religious ambiguity among many Americans. In 1862 the U.S. outlawed polygamy and the ensuing crackdown caused Romney’s grandparents to flee to Mexico where they settled in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
The Mexican revolution of 1910 forced the Romney family to flee back to the United States in 1912. A recent Pew Research poll found that 60 percent of adult Americans know that Mr. Romney is a Mormon; 19 percent said they were uncomfortable with that.
A survey affiliated with the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, reported that three out of four Protestant pastors did not consider Mormons to be Christians.
So millions of Americans don’t believe that Obama is a Christian and millions of other Americans aren’t sure Mormons are Christians. So Americans elected as president the son of a Kenyan Luo tribesman defeating the son of a man whose father fled America in order to practice the Mormon religious tenet of polygamy.
But the fact remains that a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll found 41 percent of Republicans now believe Obama was “probably” or “definitely” born in another country. The poll of 1,018 adults shows 27 percent of Americans overall believe the president was “probably” or “definitely” born in another country, compared with 71 percent who think he was born in the United States. Nineteen percent of independents think Obama was “probably” or “definitely” born in another country, as do 15 percent of Democrats.
An April 2011 CBS News/ New York Times poll showed one in four Americans think Obama was not born in U.S. and among all Republicans, 45 percent believe he was born in another country, as do 45 percent of Tea Party supporters.
Another April 2011 poll—the month the White House released Obama’s official birth certificate—by USA Today/Gallup, showed that 9% of all Americans say that Obama was “definitely” not born in the U.S. Another 15% say that Obama was “probably” not born in the U.S. That’s about a quarter of the U.S. adult population, 24% who have doubts about Obama being constitutionally eligible to serve as president. That poll showed 38% of Americans thought Obama was “definitely” born in the U.S. and another 18% who say he was “probably” born in the U.S. Another 20% said that they didn’t know enough to say or refused to answer.
So who are those 24% who believe president Obama is a fraud and was not born in the U.S.?
These beliefs are connected to education, but still 13% of those with post-graduate educations say that Obama was probably or definitely not born in the U.S., or half the 28% of those with some college and 26% of those with only a high school education or less who believes Obama was not native born.
And certainly political allegiance makes up a chunk of the Believers. 43% of Republicans say that Obama was not born in the U.S., including 15% who are definite in their beliefs and another 28% who say “probably.” But 20% of independents believe Obama was probably or definitely not born in the U.S. and nine percent of Democrats agree. Seventy-five percent of registered voters who say Obama was born in U.S. would consider voting for him. Fifteen percent of those who say he was not born in the U.S. would consider voting for Obama, while 85% say they definitely would not. 36% of those who identified themselves as conservatives said Obama was definitely or probably not born in the U.S, compared with 17% of moderates and 13% of liberals.
And a whopping 47% of Americans who identify themselves as “very” conservative — about 13% of the adult population– said that Obama was not born in the U.S. 43% of conservative Republicans agree.
PolitiFact, a non partisan fact checking organization, has debunked claims that Obama is a Muslim.
“Even so, in August 2010 we wrote that 18 percent of Americans believed he was a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009, according to Pew Research Center data. A Time poll also released in 2010 claimed the number was 24 percent. Often linked is the belief that Obama was not born in the United States. Here, too, PolitiFact has debunked numerous related claims, many involving the president’s birth certificate.”
Politifact recently broke down the numerous poll results in recent years. The March 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found that “among residents who said they planned to vote in their upcoming GOP primary, 52 percent in Alabama and 42 percent in Mississippi said they believed Obama was a Muslim.”
They also pointed out a March 2012 poll from Obama’s home state of Illinois where 39 percent of likely republican primary voters “said he was Muslim and 36 percent said he was foreign-born.”
They analyzed eight national polls from March 2009 through May 2011 that asked questions of Obama’s religious beliefs and origin of birth.
Regarding Obama’s religion, “the biggest percentage of Republicans answering “Muslim” was 46 percent in an August 2010 Time poll. The lowest was 17 percent in a March 2009 Pew Research Center for People & the Press poll.”
Regarding Obama being born in a foreign country “the highest result was 43 percent of Republicans in an April 2011 USA Today/Gallup poll. The lowest was 14 percent in an April-May 2011 Washington Post poll.” In three of the polls, “Muslim” and “foreign born” were the answers most often given by Republicans.
In the Time poll where 46 percent of re [publicans answered Obama was a “Muslim”, the next most cited answer was 24 percent who said “Christian”. Politifact said that a “February-March 2011 Pew poll on birthplace was more evenly split, with the 37 percent of Republicans who answered that Obama was born in “another country” edging out the 33 percent who said “United States” and 30 percent who said they didn’t know or declined to answer.”
Politifact concluded “National polls consistently show less than half — sometimes much less than half — of Republicans saying Obama is a Muslim or born abroad, though both falsehoods have sometimes been the No. 1 Republican responses.”
So where does all this demonstrably refuted bunk come from? At its root, birtherism is the extreme manifestation of the belief that Obama is, by virtue of his race, name, and background, something other than fully American. But how it took hold among popular opinion can, in fact be traced to Democratic Party operatives, not the extreme right wing fringe which embraced it and carries the flag today.
Obama’s 2008 presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton, had a controversial chief strategist, Mark Penn. It was Penn who targeted exploiting Obama’s “unamericanism.” In a March 2007 memorandum to Clinton, Penn wrote: “All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared toward showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting it in a new light… It also exposes a very strong weakness for him—his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and his values.”
Penn then proposed a Clinton campaign strategy: “Every speech should contain the line that you were born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century. And talk about the basic bargain as about the deeply American values you grew up with, learned as a child, and that drive you today.” He went on: “Let’s explicitly own ‘American’ in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t … Let’s add flag symbols to the background” at campaign events.
But Penn didn’t target Obama’s citizenship and was acutely aware of the dangers involved in the dirty political tactics. “We are never going to say anything about his background,” he wrote.
It was left to the Republicans to take the ball further. Soon the campaigns suggesting Obama had been educated in a Muslim madrassa began, that, in fact he was a Muslim, and for good measure he was not even really even an American.
Regardless of who is responsible for fanning the flames of dangerous fallacies, the embarrassing fact remains that far too many “average” Americans embrace this patent balderdash in the face of overwhelming rational evidence.