JONATHAN CHAIT FEBRUARY 16, 2011
[Guest Post by Isaac Chotiner]
Earlier this week, Jon wrote an item about this PPP poll of likely Republican primary voters. The survey found that 51% of respondents did not think President Obama was born in the United States, and another 21% were not sure. On his show this evening, Bill O'Reilly expressed his outrage at the pollsters: not only is PPP a Democratic firm, he said, but the survey wasn't large enough to be accurate. His interview guest, who was in full agreement with that analysis, was Karl Rove. (Rove also took the time to mention that two regimes had removed themselves from office this month--Hosni Mubarak stepped down in Egypt, and Obama abdicated the presidency by presenting an irresponsible budget).
O'Reilly decided to rebut the PPP poll by showing the results of a CBS survey taken last year. According to this poll, 20% of Americans think Obama was born abroad and 58% think he was born in this country (the rest didn't know). Both O'Reilly and Rove seemed sanguine about this poll because, apparently, the idea that only one in five Americans is completely uninformed and another one in five cannot answer a simple question is somehow reassuring.
The important thing here is that the two polls do not contradict each other in any way. Let's assume that most of the 20% in the CBS survey are Republicans. And Republicans only make up about one third of the country. And, furthermore, primary voters tend to make up only part of the Republican Party. Twenty percent of the population as a whole is roughly in line with 51% of GOP primary voters. (The only way this would not be true is if most birthers were Democrats, which I think we can safely assume is not the case). O'Reilly, then, did not do anything other than offer his viewers more evidence that a large percentage of primary voters are very, very, misinformed.
P.S. In an especially humorous moment, O'Reilly suggested that the percentage of Birthers among Republican primary voters is maybe 5% or 10%, which would put it well below the percentage given in the poll O'Reilly cites approvingly!