A Philosopher's Blog

The Twilight of the Birthers

Posted in Epistemology, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 9, 2011
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

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Shortly before ordering the successful hit on Bin Laden Obama released his long form birth certificate. The Washington Post recently conducted a poll to see the impact of this release.

On the one hand, I thought that it might have little impact. After all, it seemed reasonable to think that if the short form did not convince people, then a long form would have no greater effect. On the other hand, since some of the birthers had been demanding the “real” birth certificate as proof, it seemed possible that they would accept the sanctification of their demand as proof.

Interestingly, the Washington Post’s poll results show that there has been a significant change since April 2010. In 2010 20% of the adults polled claimed that Obama was born outside the United States. This has fallen to 10% in 2011. The largest change was among Republicans. In 2010 31% of Republicans claimed they believed Obama was born outside of the US. In 2011 only 14% held this view. For conservative Republicans, the change has been from 35% to 16%. Interestingly, 7% of Democrats, 12% of Independents, and 3% of liberal Democrats still claim they believe he was born outside of the US.

While other factors might be involved in the decline, it seems reasonable to consider that the release of the long form birth certificate had some impact. It also seems reasonable to take into account the fact that certain notable conservatives, such as Rove, have been critical of the birther approach. It is also worth considering the fact that movements generally tend to lose members over time as people move on to other things.

While the percentage of people who believe that Obama was not born in the US has declined significantly since 2010, it is still rather worrying that 10% of those polled still hold to this belief. After all, the evidence seems to be rather overwhelming.

Interestingly, the people who still claim to believe that Obama was not born in the United States tend to admit that they lack definitive evidence for their claim. Rather, they seem to take the line that they have suspicions about Obama’s place of birth. This could be taken as being more of an expression of dislike for Obama as opposed to a significant epistemic failure.

I suspect that the birthers will never vanish completely. After all, conspiracy theories often have an amazing endurance. There are, for example, still people who claim that the moon landings were faked.

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