Fringe Views Not So Fringe
Via Eric Kleefeld, I see Public Policy Polling has surveyed Americans on various conspiracy theories and wild ideas and found substantial adherence to all of them, leading their Tom Jensen to ask “Is extremism becoming mainstream in 21st century American politics?”
Our latest national poll would seem to say yes- 35% voters in the country either think that Barack Obama was not born in the United States or that George W. Bush intentionally allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur so that we could go to war in the Middle East. A very troubled 2% of the population buys into both of those conspiracy theories.
Only 59% of Americans say confidently that they think Barack Obama was born in the country while 23% think he was not, and 18% are unsure. Among Republicans there are more voters- 42%- who think he was born somewhere else than there are- 37%- who will say for sure that he was born here.
The far out sentiments aren’t limited to the right though. 14% of Americans, including 25% of Democrats, think that George W. Bush let 9/11 happen to justify war, and 8% aren’t sure.
10% of voters say they think Obama is the Anti-Christ with 11% unsure and 8% say the same of Bush with an equal 11% unsure.
Without seeing the poll itself, it’s hard to know what to make of this. The blog post above — oddly on the free and crappy Blogspot service — does not link the survey and, while Jensen has an email address at publicpolicypolling.com, that’s currently pulling up a “Bad Request (Invalid Hostname)” error. So, I have no idea what their sampling methodology — or even the precise question wording — was.
Still, it’s not terribly surprising that a large number of people think things which are demonstrably untrue, let alone things which are unfalsifiable.
Most Americans are aware that questions have been raised about Obama’s American citizenship. And it’s a subject that’s potentially confusing to those who haven’t seriously looked into it. (Yes, Obama was a Kenyan citizen, by virtue of his father’s being one, but automatically lost it upon attaining majority. It’s a technically interesting question as to whether his mother could have transmitted citizenship given her residency status under the law as it stood in 1962. But there’s simply no serious question that he was born in Hawaii, one of the 50 states, which renders all other questions moot.) So, for those who follow the news only by osmosis, it’s not surprising that a few would think he’s not a citizen and more still would have some doubts.
The Truther conspiracy is more pernicious but easier to believe, since it’s impossible to disprove. There’s no doubt that there was a memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” or that Bush received it five weeks ahead of the 9/11 attacks. Nor is there any question that there were bits and pieces of evidence in the possession of various federal agencies that, in hindsight, could be assembled to show that the government “knew” a lot. For that matter, Bush clearly thought Saddam was an evil dude who needed to be taken out (a belief shared by the Clinton administration.) So, all it takes to turn all of this into evidence that Bush let the attacks go on so as to justify his war is belief that he specifically or the federal government generally is evil.
As to the Anti-Christ responses, I tend to take most of them as “he’s a really bad guy” than expression that he’s a specific figure predicted in Revelations. Else, how does one explain the people who thought both Obama and Bush are the Anti-Christ? But, alas, there are always people who believe a given president is that figure. I recall it being pointed out nearly three decades ago that Ronald Wilson Reagan was comprised of 6-6-6 letters. (For what it’s worth, Snopes helpfully explains that Obama does not much resemble the Anti-Christ described in Revelations.)