We are all birthers now

The chief outlet pushing the myths about President Obama's birth has a new poll out -- its results are surprising

Published June 18, 2009 9:15PM (EDT)

If you believe World Net Daily, the conservative Web site that's the chief outlet for news from the Birthers -- those people who believe President Obama is ineligible to be president -- then a startling amount of Americans not only know about the movement and its theories, but might even agree.

The site has been pushing a poll on the issue that it conducted recently. Respondents were asked whether they are "aware of questions raised about Barack Obama's constitutional eligibility for the office of President" and, if so, what they think should be done about it. Meanwhile, more members of Congress have signed on to a bill that would require future presidential candidates to provide proof of their birthplace.

In an article about the results, the site quotes the pollster who conducted the survey, Fritz Wenzel, as saying, "Our polling shows that the questions surrounding Barack Obama's eligibility to serve as president clearly strike a nerve across America, probably because it is a problem that everybody understands. Every American citizen has a birth certificate, and once in a while we all have to produce them to get a drivers license or gain entrance to school .... And while Obama did get in to the White House, nearly half the country's adults -- 49 percent -- are troubled by this issue and still want him to produce his official long-form birth certificate."

That might be taking things a little far. It's true that 51.3 percent of respondents said they are aware of the questions. But in addition to the 18.7 percent who said they aren't aware of them, another 30 percent said they aren't sure if they know about the issue or not. The actual script of the poll wasn't available online, and Wenzel hasn't yet responded to a voicemail message from Salon, but that's the kind of result that should make you wonder if the people who answered "yes" -- or "no," for that matter -- really knew what they were being asked about. And it's doubtful that many people really do know the ins and outs of a theory that's largely the province of a few conspiracist fever swamps.

Getting a result that favored WND's position on the issue of whether Obama should release a long-form birth certificate (despite the fact that he's already released a copy of his birth certificate and Hawaiian officials have said he was born there) involved a little sleight of hand.

The result trumpeted by WND is that 41.5 percent of respondents said "Obama should release all records, including long-form birth certificate," essentially the "yes" answer WND was looking for. An additional 7.8 percent said they "are troubled by these questions," which the site has been lumping in with the yes answer. The "no" answer, though, they split up into five different responses -- "I am not concerned," "questions not valid," "Obama has met requirements," "Obama has answered all questions" and "requirements outdated -- should be ignored."

It's a neat trick, and a fairly common one; by doing that, you can avoid providing a real reflection of the size of your opposition. In this case, the total of those five answers adds up to a majority of respondents, 50.6 percent.

Still, a handful of congressman have latched on to the issue. A bill introduced by Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., that requires candidates to provide proof of their eligibility for the presiency has attracted four cosponsors: Reps. John Carter, R-Texas, John Culberson, R-Texas, Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas.

Depending on the audience, Posey and his staff will either portray the bill as a helpful measure to prevent these kinds of myths and conspiracy theories from spreading, or will be a bit more candid about what's really going on. In an interview on a radio show hosted by Andrea Shea King, who writes for WND, Posey took the latter tack. While he did say, "The last election is over, I don't think that outcome is going to change. Personally, I think it's futile to go there, but looking toward the future I think it would be reckless if we do not do everything we could to eliminate problems like that in the future," he also indicated some suspicion of Obama.

"The only people that I know who are afraid to take drug tests are the people who use drugs," Posey told King.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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