PPP survey finds many Republicans mistakenly think that Obama wasn’t born in U.S. but Canada-born Ted Cruz was

I’ve long argued that political disagreements often result less from difference of opinion than from differing notions of the facts. There are a lot of bogus ideas floating around across the political spectrum.

I just saw a remarkable example of this in the results of a recent survey from Public Policy Polling, an outfit based here in North Carolina with a pretty good track record. (This link takes you to a 138-page PDF with the complete results. See in particular questions 28 through 30.)

Some 572 “usual Republican primary voters” (which I think means people who say they usually vote in Republican primaries, a group commonly called the “Republican base”) were asked whether President Obama and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) were born in the United States. Obama was of course born in Honolulu and Cruz in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The reported margin of error is 4.1 percent. The disappointing results:

Only 29 percent of the Republican voters surveyed correctly said that Obama was born in the U.S. versus 44 percent who said that he was not. (The rest indicated that they weren’t sure.)

In addition, only 22 percent correctly said that Ted Cruz was born outside the country versus 40 percent who got it wrong.

A few years ago Hawaii officials released a photocopy of Obama’s original “long-form” birth certificate, which is bound into a volume in a vault in the records office in Honolulu. The copy was formally certified by the head of the office, who publicly expressed hope that this would finally put the matter to rest.

It’s also worth noting that both of the daily newspapers published in Honolulu in 1961 reported Obama’s birth in their vital records columns. (Back then it was routine for newspapers to publish such listings, which were supplied by government offices.) These papers are archived on microfilm in public and academic libraries all over the U.S. and in other countries. And why in the world would his young mother, a not-very-rich student, have spent a huge amount of money to travel overseas to give birth away from family and friends? In short, there’s no way Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii.

Ted Cruz was born to an American mother and a Cuban father, but unlike Obama he really was born outside the U.S., specifically in Calgary, Alberta, and did not move to the United States until he was four years old, as he has himself confirmed. Because his mother was American, he was a natural-born U.S. citizen from birth despite being born in another country. His place of birth made Cruz a Canadian citizen as well, but last year he formally renounced his Canadian citizenship to deal with suggestions that this might disqualify him from running for president.

(Incidentally, you might wonder if he also inherited his father’s Cuban citizenship, but from what I’ve read, under Cuban law he did not.)

It’s a little discouraging that in both cases the Republican voters answering correctly were greatly outnumbered by the ones getting it wrong, but at least enough people admitted not knowing that the fraction in error did not reach 50 percent.

Another disappointment: When asked in the same poll whether they believed Barack Obama was a Christian or a Muslim, a solid majority of 54 percent of the Republican voters surveyed said that he was Muslim, another 32 percent said they weren’t sure, and only 14 percent identified him as Christian. There is of course not the slightest evidence that Obama is a Muslim and quite a lot that he’s a Christian.

Incidentally, I don’t mean to suggest that misconceptions are found only on the right-hand side of the political spectrum. Democrats seem about as likely as Republicans to have misconceptions about Social Security, for example, and while I might be mistaken, my impression is that anti-vaccination types are a bit more common on the left.

Update: Or maybe not. While there are for example concentrations of unvaccinated children in politically left-leaning areas of California, I’ve also been reminded that some Republican presidential candidates in the current campaign (see e.g. this later post) and the last (Michele Bachmann being the most obvious example) made demonstrably false assertions about vaccines, something I can’t recall hearing from a major Democratic figure. If anyone knows of an opinion survey showing cross-tabs for political affiliation and mistaken beliefs about vaccines I’d be interested in learning of it.

Also, lots and lots of people have seriously wrong notions about the views of people outside their own groups. For example, a lot of progressive Democrats seem not to realize that many Republicans were just as outraged as they were about the government bank bailouts initiated by the Bush administration in the latter part of 2008.

(Updated 2015 Sep 6 and Sep 12 for clarity and to remove some excess verbosity and a dumb typo and Sep 20 to acknowledge some uncertainty in my impression that anti-vaccine nonsense is more common on the political left.)

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PPP survey finds many Republicans mistakenly think that Obama wasn’t born in U.S. but Canada-born Ted Cruz was — 5 Comments

  1. So a foreigner born in Canada is a citizen of whatever country his or her parents come from, but a foreigner born in the US is a citizen of the US. I prefer the Canadian way.

    • Actually, people born in Canada are citizens of Canada, just as people born in the U.S. are citizens of the U.S. When a Dallas Morning News article published in 2013 pointed out that Cruz was a citizen of both countries (of the U.S. by virtue of his American mother and of Canada because he was born in Calgary), Cruz quickly initiated legal proceedings to renounce his Canadian citizenship. That process wasn’t completed until June of 2014 (link).

      The Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, grants citizenship to everyone born here. They aren’t “foreigners born in the U.S.,” they’re Americans. (The only exceptions are the offspring of diplomats, because they’re not subject to U.S. jurisdiction.) This is why you can prove your citizenship, e.g. when applying for a passport, by showing your birth certificate. If citizenship didn’t work this way, how could you go about proving you were an American?

      And if citizenship required proving that at least one of your parents was a citizen, how could you do that if being born here wasn’t enough to make your parents citizens either? Would we wind up with people who were born here and whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were born here but who still weren’t citizens? That seems pretty silly to me. In practice native-born citizenship works just fine and I don’t think the Constitution should be altered to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.

  2. I know what the 14th says and I don’t want it changed, but I don’t think its initial intention was to make citizens of the offspring of illegals, but to protect the rights of freed slaves. But they didn’t see what consequences it would have over a century later and I guess we’re stuck with it.

    • You’re absolutely right that the immediate purpose was overturning Dred Scott v Sandford, probably the worst Supreme Court decision in American history. But even prior to that, since the founding of the Republic, citizenship was a right of birth at least for white persons, including the children of immigrants. Since immigration was unrestricted at the time, there were no “illegals.”

      Birthright citizenship has worked well all that time, with obvious practical benefits for the vast majority of us. Opposition seems driven mainly by a general disapproval of illegal immigration (which isn’t at all unreasonable) and largely unfounded fears, and in some cases (I don’t mean yours) by outright racism. It’s not a reaction to real, demonstrated negative consequences.

  3. Pingback: John Oliver on the Canadian election | D Gary Grady

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