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Comment on the CNN “birther poll”

Alvin Greene, SC Democratic Senate nominee

For some time I have been thinking about these birther polls and that they are probably not representative of the real degree of birther sentiment in the population. It’s rather like the South Carolina Democratic Primary where a fellow that no one had even heard of, who had no campaign, no advertising, no web site, won the Democratic nomination for Senate over a well-established state legislator. Something beyond folks wanting Alvin Greene was going on.

An article at the Scoop/Daily web site from July 2009 puts things into perspective about birther polls. If one were to excerpt one main idea from the article it is that people will guess a poll answer even if they know nothing about the question. Just by asking the question, the poll raises suspicion in the mind of the respondent that there may be a problem with Obama’s citizenship.

Public opinion research has shown consistently that survey takers almost never skip questions no matter how uninformed they are (and whether or not an option to say “I don’t know” is presented). As a rule, respondents just guess, using whatever contextual clues are available to them. They will reduce the question to analogies and terms they can relate to, which in survey research are called heuristics.

30 Responses to Comment on the CNN “birther poll”

  1. avatar
    K. L. Fedexa August 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    The ability of the question itself to modify people’s beliefs has been known for a while. It’s also been used as a form of poisoned poll to bias people.

    A friend gives a sort of example here, where Republican pollsters, ostensibly simply discovering voter attitudes, asks:

    Would you be more or less likely to vote for Hilary Clinton if you knew she had an illegimant baby named Jamal? Would you be more or less likely to vote for George Bush if you knew he won the Medal of Honor but was too modest to wear it?

    … saw a picture of Clinton and her lesbian lover Castrating Cathy? … saw a picture of George Bush and his family going into church on Sunday?

  2. avatar
    PetJake August 8, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: An article at the Scoop/Daily web site from July 2009 puts things into perspective about birther polls. If one were to excerpt one main idea from the article it is that people will guess a poll answer even if they know nothing about the question. Just by asking the question, the poll raises suspicion in the mind of the respondent that there may be a problem with Obama’s citizenship.

    .
    Actually, this article was a bad choice. For one thing, it is more than a year old and a lot of things have changed since then. The main reason why you should have passed on this one is because it offers no insight on birther polls or true survey research. While it does barely cover how a question can be worded in a biased and slanting way, the examples he presents are juvenile and assinine. First of all, this anonymous writer is about as hard-Left, anti-Conservative and anti-Republican as anyone can get who’s not wearing a straight jacket. There is no need to say he’s "anti-Birther" as that would be redundant.
    .
    His opening line, It’s provoked a lot of discussion all over the liberal blogs about how Republicans are a regional party that’s coming increasingly unmoored from reality sent his credibility into the crapper and the rest of his screed was predictably even more one-sided. His repeated attempts to marginalize and ridicule people effectively took it out of the realm of objective research. He started out talking about the biased and slanted Daily Kos poll, but without providing the questions asked.
    .
    I am afraid that you, Doc, also fell into this trap by not including the actual survey question on the CNN poll along with its choices. It is understandable why you referenced this article, but if you are serious about presenting something from a scientific perspective, it would be wise to steer clear of pieces that are little more than blatant smack-downs of the Right.
    .
    This hit piece was written on July 31, 2009. By that time, every news agency had a story about the "Birthers." For him to claim that "90% of the American population has ever given so much as a thought to Obama’s birth certificate, and for good reason. This is a tiny, lunatic fringe belief," is not only wrong – it shows just how ignorant a guy can be when not paying attention to both sides of an issue.
    .
    He did not differentiate between those who believe that the "birth certificate" answers the question of eligibility and those who do not – two distinct groups who have given a lot of thought to Obama’s birth certificate and a lot bigger than 10 percent.
    .
    Next, he cuts such a wide swath with his all-inclusive comments that it’s pretty clear he has no clue about real survey research. He was right about not trusting the results of the Daily Kos poll, but for all the wrong reasons.
    .
    If he had any experience with survey research, then he should have talked about how a subtle change in wording can have a dramatic effect on the responding. No need to resort to hyperbolic examples like he presented. There are a lot of really bad surveys in use today that seem on the surface to be valid. Yet, when you look at how the survey was created, how the samples were taken, and how it was administered, that is when you find out that somebody screwed up.
    .
    News agencies will do a lot of unscientific sampling, but how many in their audience will actually care about the distinction? Very, very few. They will focus on the results every time. For this and other reasons, people think that doing a survey is an easy way to gather valid and reliable data. It is not at all easy, if you want to do it right.
    .
    The only proper way to judge the results of a survey done by someone else is by asking the right questions, such as (a) what is the purpose of the survey and what were the questions asked; (b) who is the target population sampled and how was the sample taken, (c) was this sample representative of the entire population and what is the margin of error, (d) what were the choices given, and (e) how were they presented (open choice, forced-choice, short answer, true midpoint, and an opt-out item like "Don’t know/No opinion." There is one more important criteria, "When was the survey taken."
    .
    I looked at all of these criteria in the CNN poll and the first thing I noticed was the date range of the survey. It was July 16-21, 2010. By this time, a large majority of the public knows about the birth certificate issue and Obama’s place of birth. They may not know all of the ins and outs, but they are fully able to answer the question asked of them: "Do you think Barack Obama was born in the United States or born in another country?"
    .
    There are five possible choices: Definitely US, Probably US, Probably born in foreign country, Definitely born in foreign country, and No opinion.
    .
    There are some questions for which you will always get an answer that truly reflects how a respondent feels and where very few will voice “No opinion” as their position. It is not a function of guessing or heuristics. It is a function of the questions asked. Hot button issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, death penalty, immigration, health care, and so on. Obama’s place of birth and his subsequent eligibility to be President fits in with these.
    .
    However, and here is the big “If,” There is far more likelihood that a person who has never heard anything about this issue will answer in the affirmative, that Obama was born in the US.
    .
    There is no other way to spin this in your favor, Doc. The only people who are going to answer Probably or Definitely born in a foreign country know about the issue, even though the mainstream media never talked about it all through 2008 and half of 2009..
    .
    This is exactly the same question that can be asked about John McCain’s birth place. In fact, this was the question that the media thoroughly discussed in 2008. They literally pounced all over his Panama problem, and there were no catcalls, no smears, no cries of "Birthers," and no references to a lunatic fringe. The media had a field day with the issue, but amazingly, no one on the Left seems to recall it.
    .
    It was not for lack of exposure, Doc, just a simple tendency to skip anything that was just about McCain, and McCain only.

  3. avatar
    Majority Will August 8, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    PetJake:

    juvenile and assinine

    LMFAO

    Where did you receive your training and credentials in forensic science and forensic document analysis?

    http://www.abfde.org/fde.htm#How

    “How can I make sure my witness is really an expert?”

    “Certifications and credentials should be carefully examined in your expert witness selections. Do they have the proper training, education, professional memberships, certification, and necessary experience) Attorneys should be aware that persons who advertise as handwriting analysts may be self-trained or trained as graphologists. Groups outside of the mainstream forensic science organizations abound.”

  4. avatar
    Majority Will August 8, 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    PetJake:

    SQUAWK!

    http://www.abfde.org/FindExpert.html

    I couldn’t find any credible evidence anywhere that you’re an expert in anything except perhaps irrelevant fiction.

  5. avatar
    AnotherBird August 8, 2010 at 9:19 pm #

    PetJake: There is no other way to spin this in your favor, Doc. The only people who are going to answer Probably or Definitely born in a foreign country know about the issue, even though the mainstream media never talked about it all through 2008 and half of 2009.

    Image that it would have been easy to stress your lack of understanding of how surveys work, then you come up with this gem. Denial is a very powerful defense against protecting oneself from a disappointment. Even in a logical argument a person would include those who they believe refuse to accept the truth.

    PetJake: This is exactly the same question that can be asked about John McCain’s birth place. In fact, this was the question that the media thoroughly discussed in 2008. They literally pounced all over his Panama problem, and there were no catcalls, no smears, no cries of “Birthers,” and no references to a lunatic fringe. The media had a field day with the issue, but amazingly, no one on the Left seems to recall it.

    It is amazing that you are so uniformed. There are still people who actually believe that John McCain wasn’t born “at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone.” According to your previous argument the only people who know about are those who would answer Probably or Definitely born off Coco Solo Naval Air Station.

    And, this only has to do with your logical reasoning and not your lack of qualifications.

  6. avatar
    Dave August 8, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    PetJake:

    I’m struggling find your point in this lengthy comment. Are you suggesting that there really are a lot of birthers? I’ve noticed that birthers have several themes they’re fond of, and one of them is that there are a lot of birthers. (Another favorite is that all Democrats are just terrified of birthers.) Did you notice that when Tatiz ran for CA SoS, she got half a million votes? There are over 16 million registered voters in CA. If 25% of the populace are birthers, why didn’t Taitz get 4 million votes? Is it because 22% are birthers who are enraged at the usurper but can’t be bothered to register and vote?

  7. avatar
    Majority Will August 8, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Dave:
    I’m struggling find your point in this lengthy comment. Are you suggesting that there really are a lot of birthers? I’ve noticed that birthers have several themes they’re fond of, and one of them is that there are a lot of birthers. (Another favorite is that all Democrats are just terrified of birthers.) Did you notice that when Tatiz ran for CA SoS, she got half a million votes? There are over 16 million registered voters in CA. If 25% of the populace are birthers, why didn’t Taitz get 4 million votes? Is it because 22% are birthers who are enraged at the usurper but can’t be bothered to register and vote?

    Half of them were stoned on medical marijuana and the other half thought it was a Super Wednesday.

  8. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 8, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    PetJake: However, and here is the big “If,” There is far more likelihood that a person who has never heard anything about this issue will answer in the affirmative, that Obama was born in the US.
    .
    There is no other way to spin this in your favor, Doc. The only people who are going to answer Probably or Definitely born in a foreign country know about the issue, even though the mainstream media never talked about it all through 2008 and half of 2009.

    I was wondering how far into your long comment I would have to read before you said anything, and it was pretty far, but we finally did get to it.

    I cited the article at Scoop/Daily specifically for the idea that I posted from it, the reticence of a respondent to check the “don’t know” or “no opinion” box. I think this point continues to be valid, even though there is a good bit of media coverage (all anti-birther) under the bridge since July of 2009. The survey question itself was available on links to the CNN site, and were, I thought, quite straightforward. It didn’t need repeating.

    It does matter how you answer the question. Consider a hypothetical population who is totally unaware that there are any questions raised about president Obama’s birthplace. If you ask the question: “Name 5 reasons why Obama should not be president,” you would expect to get zero responses “because he is not eligible”, but if you ask those same people the question “Are you sure Barack Obama was born in the United States” you would expect to get some number of negative answers because just asking the question itself raised doubts. That’s the heuristic at work.

    I would add that news organizations have an incentive to keep the birther poll numbers up, to make their stories more newsworthy.

  9. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 8, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    PetJake: The only people who are going to answer Probably or Definitely born in a foreign country know about the issue, even though the mainstream media never talked about it all through 2008 and half of 2009..

    I know you intended this as an exaggeration, but I will point out that it is not true, for example see:

    Obama Birth Certificate Fuss “Ridiculous”, August 16, 2008, CBS News Blog. Anti-Obama and right-wing bloggers have been throwing more and more criticism against the wall to see what sticks. One of their more fanciful charges is that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, born in Hawaii in 1961, is not a U.S. citizen and therefore cannot be elected president.

    Obama’s Citizenship and Survival of the Fittest, October 23, 2008, FactCheck.org. Yesterday we posted something about the evolution of rumors. Here’s a postscript: Sometimes in addition to developing new eyespots or camouflage, they actually engage in a little adaptive development – rumors that aren’t working mutate into slightly altered versions that haven’t been debunked yet.

    Born in the USA, November 1, 2008, FactCheck.org. FactCheck.org staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate.

    Officials verify birth certificate of Obama, November 1, 2008, Honolulu Star Bulletin. Hawaii’s health director steps in after numerous requests for the document.

    Obama’s Hawaii boyhood homes drawing gawkers, November 9, 2008, The Honolulu Advertiser. While most Obama residences can be traced, the hospital where he was born is difficult to document. The desire of historians to pinpoint where Obama’s life began has crashed head-on with the modern American propensity toward confidentiality.

    Backstage Conversation, November 12, 2008, BillOreilly.com (YouTube). He’s legal.

    Why the conspiracy theories about Barack Obama will never die, December 5, 2008, Salon.com. Barack Obama was, without question, born in the U.S., and he is eligible to be president, but experts on conspiracy theories say that won’t ever matter to those who believe otherwise.

    Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull program, December 5, 2008, CNN.com. A new lawsuit questions Obama’s eligibility to serve by raising doubts about his citizenship. Also on YouTube.

    Whispers persist despite election, December 8, 2008, Politico.com. Even with the election decided, the widely debunked whisper campaign claiming that Barack Obama is secretly not an American, and thus not qualified to be president, is going strong.

    Supreme Court rejects Obama citizenship case, December 8, 2008, Politico.com. The court turned down a long-shot emergency appeal from a New Jersey man who claimed that Obama could not serve as president because he had dual nationality at birth.

    Officer Calls Obama ‘Usurper’ President, February 25, 2009, Military.com. Using words such as “imposter” and “usurper,” an active-duty Army officer in Iraq has joined a California lawyer’s lawsuit intended to force President Barack Obama to prove he is a legal U.S. citizen, and therefore able to legally serve as the commander in chief.

    Orange County’s Obama-Deniers Keep On Keeping On, March 5, 2009, Orange County Weekly, Maybe the dentist and her friends will get some traction later this month in Irvine when all those tax-deniers and 9/11 truthers get together and learn about about tooth-decay.

    Born Identity, June 6, 2009, Honolulu Start Bulletin. No, you can’t obtain a “certificate of live birth” anymore.

    Crazy right-wing myths about Obama 2.0, June 8, 2009, Salon.com. The post-inauguration edition of odd things conservatives believe about Obama. Teleprompters! Hitler Youth! Satan!

    Obama birther billboard spotted. June 8, 2009, The Washington Independent, WorldNetDaily has been crowing about (and soliciting donations for) “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” anti-Obama billboards for months, but I hadn’t actually seen one. The first one’s finally up in Louisiana.

    It Won’t End Until…, June 9, 2009, The Washington Missourian, There is a group called the United States Justice Foundation (USJF) that has called the Barack Obama birth certificate the “biggest political cover-up in American history.” It will not put this issue to bed!

    Rachel Maddow (via YouTube) , (unknown date), MSNBC, There is a factinating fringe movement in American politics that is becoming known as “The Birthers”. More from Rachel Maddow.

    Shepherd Smith, June 10, 2009, Fox News Network. More and More Frightening (video).

    That’s just a sample and doesn’t even cover WorldNetDaily and Globe magazine, nor Internet web sites and chain emails.

  10. avatar
    gwen August 9, 2010 at 2:03 am #

    This one is just plain stupid. You can walk up to 100 Hawaiian residents and ask where a child would have been born in 1961 if the parents were living in Honolulu. The first response would be “were they military?”. Once you’ve said ‘no’ to that, everyone would give you the name of a single hospital; Kapiolani Women and childrens hospital….where in fact he WAS born!

  11. avatar
    Lupin August 9, 2010 at 2:35 am #

    I don’t really see why how many people believe in some rubbishy notion matters.

    31% of Americans believe in astrology and 51% in ghosts. So what?

  12. avatar
    PetJake August 9, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    Dr. C – you presented this article not as a knowledgeable reference on surveys – which it was not – but as yet another attack piece on “Birthers,” that just so happen to touch on one “Birther survey” conducted by the Daily Kos, written by an anonymous author. The quote about how people respond was simply a hook to bring in your readers.
    .
    The point of my post was totally missed by the people who, once again, devolved into ad hominem arguments to make their point. The discussion following my information piece does little to assuage the belief that liberals always turn every discussion started by someone who does not agree with them into a personal attack. The reason for doing so is to absolve them of ever having to actually process what was written. It does not matter that I have 38 years of experience in designing and conducting large-scale surveys, because the lunatic fringe who attacked me would simply find another way to denigrate that as well. So far, I have yet to see anything resembling an intelligent, well-thought out discussion by those arrogantly claiming to be smart and highly educated.
    .
    Factcheck? Politifact? Honolulu Advertiser? C’mon, Doc. These are not part of the “Mainstream Media.” As I said, what does matter is how you ask the question and what are the choices given. The example you gave, ” “Are you sure Barack Obama was born in the United States?” is a loaded question designed to prompt uncertainty.The CNN question did nothing of the sort. Their question was worded unambiguously and the choices given were equally balanced. The point I made is valid – that the way the question is worded and presented, along with the choices that are given, significantly effect the outcome of the survey far more than any heuristics involved in choosing the answer that best fits their interpetation and understanding.

  13. avatar
    G August 9, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    PetJake: So far, I have yet to see anything resembling an intelligent, well-thought out discussion by those arrogantly claiming to be smart and highly educated.

    Oh, the irony meter just pegged and blew again! LOL!

  14. avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater (Bob Ross) August 9, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    PetJake: Dr. C – you presented this article not as a knowledgeable reference on surveys – which it was not – but as yet another attack piece on “Birthers,” that just so happen to touch on one “Birther survey” conducted by the Daily Kos, written by an anonymous author. The quote about how people respond was simply a hook to bring in your readers..The point of my post was totally missed by the people who, once again, devolved into ad hominem arguments to make their point. The discussion following my information piece does little to assuage the belief that liberals always turn every discussion started by someone who does not agree with them into a personal attack. The reason for doing so is to absolve them of ever having to actually process what was written. It does not matter that I have 38 years of experience in designing and conducting large-scale surveys, because the lunatic fringe who attacked me would simply find another way to denigrate that as well. So far, I have yet to see anything resembling an intelligent, well-thought out discussion by those arrogantly claiming to be smart and highly educated..Factcheck? Politifact? Honolulu Advertiser? C’mon, Doc. These are not part of the “Mainstream Media.” As I said, what does matter is how you ask the question and what are the choices given. The example you gave, ” “Are you sure Barack Obama was born in the United States?” is a loaded question designed to prompt uncertainty.The CNN question did nothing of the sort. Their question was worded unambiguously and the choices given were equally balanced. The point I made is valid – that the way the question is worded and presented, along with the choices that are given, significantly effect the outcome of the survey far more than any heuristics involved in choosing the answer that best fits their interpetation and understanding.

    Polarik, I find it funny that you claim liberals turn everything into ad hominem attacks. Are you admitting that you yourself are a liberal? You have refused to have civil discussion in the past here and have attacked others and now you want to complain.
    Not everyone here is a liberal and so you paint such a broad brush trying to claim somehow all birthers are conservatives and all rational people are liberals. That may be somewhat true but there are many conservatives who aren’t crackpots and are not birthers.

    So is conducting surveys your actual experience and not the forensic analysis you have pretended in the past?

  15. avatar
    Sef August 9, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    Lupin: I don’t really see why how many people believe in some rubbishy notion matters.
    31% of Americans believe in astrology and 51% in ghosts. So what?

    It says that our education system has been hijacked & is terribly deficient. If it’s not related to football or cheerleading it’s not important.

  16. avatar
    Majority Will August 9, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    G:
    Oh, the irony meter just pegged and blew again! LOL!

    Which blew first? The hypocrisy meter or the irony meter?

  17. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 9, 2010 at 10:34 am #

    We will need a forensic explosion examiner to say which meter blew first.

  18. avatar
    Majority Will August 9, 2010 at 10:34 am #

    PetJake: The point of my post was totally missed by the people who, once again, devolved into ad hominem arguments to make their point. The discussion following my information piece does little to assuage the belief that liberals always turn every discussion started by someone who does not agree with them into a personal attack.

    Would that include your personal attacks that has people pissed off at you on the Free Republic forums?

  19. avatar
    Slartibartfast August 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    G:
    Oh, the irony meter just pegged and blew again! LOL!

    Doc should get that fixed.

  20. avatar
    Sef August 9, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: We will need a forensic explosion examiner to say which meter blew first.

    He should get one with a logarithmic scale instead of a linear scale.

  21. avatar
    Majority Will August 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    Sef: logarithmic

    I think I see your point but is the base of your idea more common or just more natural? Something doesn’t add up.

  22. avatar
    Sef August 9, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    Majority Will:
    I think I see your point but is the base of your idea more common or just more natural? Something doesn’t add up.

    Recent experience has shown this to be quite common. The other point is that irony is never zero.

  23. avatar
    Slartibartfast August 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    Majority Will:
    I think I see your point but is the base of your idea more common or just more natural? Something doesn’t add up.

    It doesn’t matter since they’re both the same (mod a constant) and things add up fine – they’ve just been multiplied. 😉 I’m not sure that even a logarithmic scale will be enough.

  24. avatar
    Sef August 9, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Sef:
    Recent experience has shown this to be quite common.The other point is that irony is never zero.

    Actually, only imaginary irony is zero.

  25. avatar
    Slartibartfast August 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Sef:
    Recent experience has shown this to be quite common.The other point is that irony is never zero.

    That’s a good thing, otherwise we might be swallowed up by the pole.

  26. avatar
    Black Lion August 9, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    Analysis: Tea Party Supporters Harbor More Racial Resentment Than Other Conservatives

    As the right-wing media machine pursues the “Southern Strategy” of stoking fear among their white conservative audience about black and brown people destroying America, pundits have argued whether the Tea Party movement — closely aligned with Fox News, conservative talk radio, and right-wing websites — is “racist.” Although instances of racist sentiment at Tea Party rallies can be easily found, defenders of the movement argue they are aberrations, if not part of a liberal conspiracy to smear tea partiers.

    As TP’s Matt Yglesias wrote in this weekend’s Washington Post, right-wing xenophobes are fueling a “summer of fear” that has its roots in the economic downturn. The strategy of linking racial resentment to fears of economic redistribution and government control under a black presidency — in right-wing storylines including Van Jones, Shirley Sherrod, New Black Panther Party, ACORN, the “Ground Zero Mosque“, and “anchor babies” — is finding a ready audience among the people who identify themselves as tea party supporters.

    National surveys of the Tea Party have found that explicit racist sentiment is a strong component of the tea-party make up, in addition to economic conservatism and strong Republican partisanship. The April, 2010 New York Times/CBS News national survey of Tea Party supporters found that they are:

    – More than twice as likely as the general public (25% vs 11%) to believe that “the policies of the Obama administration favor blacks over whites.”

    – Half as likely as the general public (16% to 31%) to believe that “white people have a better chance of getting ahead in today’s society.”

    – Almost twice as likely as the general public (52% to 28%) to believe that “too much has been made of the problems facing black people” in recent years.

    In a broad study of adults in Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and California conducted between February and March, the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Sexuality (WISER) asked a number of questions about “racial resentment” — such as whether blacks don’t try hard enough or have gotten more than they deserve. Conservatives are 23 percent more likely to be racially resentful, and Republicans 15 percent more likely than Democrats. However, the institute found that this racial sentiment isn’t simply a byproduct of white conservativism:

    [E]ven as we account for conservatism and partisanship, support for the Tea Party remains a valid predictor of racial resentment.

    It is untrue, as political commentator Dave Weigel argues, that racism in the Tea Party is merely reflective of its conservatism. The WISER study found that compared to other conservatives, Tea Party supporters are:

    – 25 percent more likely to have racial resentment.

    – 27 percent more likely to support racial profiling.

    – 28 percent more likely to support indefinite detention without charges.

    Tea Party supporters are also significantly more likely to hold racial stereotypes, with a majority believing blacks are not hard-working, intelligent, or trustworthy. Their fear of others transcends race, however — the WISER study found that a majority of tea party adherents distrust Latinos, Asians, and other whites as well.

    Of course, this means there are still millions of Tea Party supporters whose views on race and equality are indistinguishable from most Americans. However, it is a unfortunate fact that deep-rooted racial resentment is a key distinguishing feature of Tea Party activism, above and beyond non-racist tenets of American conservatism or partisanship.

    http://thinkprogress.org/2010/08/09/tea-party-racism-2/

  27. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 9, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    PetJake: The point of my post was totally missed by the people who, once again, devolved into ad hominem arguments to make their point.

    All I can say to that is that if you want folks to get your point, you should write more succinctly.

    Unless I missed it, you haven’t gone far into addressing the central question of the article that this discussion follows, namely “are birther numbers inflated by people guessing?” A well-designed question will minimize bias in guessing and in a perfect world numbers of birthers and numbers of non-birthers would be increased equally by guessing, but the number of birthers is still inflated (along with the non-birther numbers) and it is the birther number that is the important one, the number cited in the media, and the number that may influence the next election. Nevertheless, I do not see how any question, no matter how neutrally put, that asks where Obama was born and gives as a response an option that it was “not in the United States” does not put the idea in the respondent’s mind that maybe Obama was not born in the United States (“or why else are they asking the question?”). There is also the possibility that someone who either likes or dislikes President Obama will select an answer just to express their feelings, even though they don’t know Jack about the question, and that will inflate the birther (and non-birther) numbers, and that may explain why birther belief is so strongly found in Republicans. It is those “probably not born in the US” responses that trouble me. On this blog I see “probably” very often thrown around in a way that means nothing more than “I wish.” I don’t trust the number because I don’t know what it means to the people who responded that way.

    I hope your “38 years of experience in designing and conducting large-scale surveys” will allow you to bring something quantitative to the this “random guessing” issue during the balance of the discussion.

    You have asserted (but not quantitatively supported) the idea that the number of people who really have no opinion is small, which would mean that the guessing effect is small.

    Whether the number of media articles about birther issues in 2008 through the first half of 2009 was small or large is an aside to the substantive discussion. Of the list I provided (which was just pasted from a page I’ve been keeping when I run across an article), in addition to the “not” mainstream entries, there were entries from Salon.com, Fox News Network, CNN and MSNBC which certainly ARE mainstream media. In fact within one 24-hour period in January 2009, CNN did three separate pieces on Obama eligibility. The New York Times had articles as early as June of 2008, and I counted 15 within the time period before I stopped counting. Besides exposing the false but often-repeated birther myth that the mainstream media was ignoring the birth certificate issue before the election, it doesn’t really add any light to this discussion. I agree that the volume of birther-related articles has increased significantly since July of 2009–something I know anecdotally from the volume of Google News alerts I get each day. What we don’t know is how much folks know about the issue.

    The Daily KOS/Research 2000 poll from July of 2009 showed (and how one characterizes these things can be debated) 11% of the population believed that Obama was not born in the United States. I’m going to characterize them as “sure” because the neutral response was “not sure.” The CNN poll/Opinion Research poll from July 2010 shows 11% selecting the “Definitely born in another country” response. While the polls are not the same, there is some suggestion that the number who are hard core birthers hasn’t changed despite what everyone acknowledges is increased media coverage over the past year.

    If the number of “hard core” birthers hasn’t changed over the past year, then I assert that education on the issue from the mainstream media is not having an effect. The mainstream media coverage is certainly not responsible for any increase in the “probably born outside the US numbers” because the mainstream media is 100% against the birthers (assuming right-wing talk radio is not the mainstream media). So I repeat my question, to what extent are birther numbers inflated by guessing?

  28. avatar
    Dave August 10, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    PetJake: The point I made is valid – that the way the question is worded and presented, along with the choices that are given, significantly effect the outcome of the survey far more than any heuristics involved in choosing the answer that best fits their interpetation and understanding.

    Oh, that’s your point. As I remarked in an earlier comment, I was having difficulty locating it. I guessed you were claiming that the CNN poll supports the idea that there are lots of birthers, as CNN seems to conclude. As for your point, because the way the question is worded affects the way people will apply heuristics, I don’t see how you can one is more important than the other, they seem to be parts of the same thing.

    But in any case, as i noted earlier, the question asked is only tangentially related to birthers, so you don’t have to worry about these issues to know that this poll tells us nothing about the number of birthers.

  29. avatar
    sfjeff August 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    I would love to see a poll asking Americans whether they think Tea Partiers are definetly racists, might be racists, probably are not racists or defintely are not racists.

    Not that what Americans think about Tea Partiers would represent what they actually are, but only what we perceive them as.

  30. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    PetJake: Their question was worded unambiguously and the choices given were equally balanced. The point I made is valid – that the way the question is worded and presented, along with the choices that are given, significantly effect the outcome of the survey far more than any heuristics involved in choosing the answer that best fits their interpetation and understanding.

    I don’t understand why, with your educational background and experience, that the problem with the CNN poll eludes you. Perhaps an example will help:

    Do you think the Panamanian cachillo nut (pamilia clostrides) will definitely solve the world’s food problem, probably solve the world’s food problem, probably not solve the world’s food problem, or definitely not solve the worlds food problem?

    a. definitely solve the world’s food problem
    b. probably solve the world’s food problem
    c. probably not solve the world’s food problem
    d. definitely not solve the worlds food problem
    e. No opinion

    That has exactly the same form as the CNN question, only changing the subject. Do you believe that this poll will show the true answer e: 100% (since I just made that plant name up)?