How Many Southern Whites Believe Obama Was Born in America?

July 31, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

The breakdowns of the Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll that asked 2,400 people about where they believe the president was born are revealing. As Steve Benen and Markos Moulitsas both pointed out, only in the South is there a sizable number of Americans with questions about the president’s citizenship. While around 90 percent of people in the Northeast, Midwest and West know that Obama was born in in United States, only 47 percent of people in the South believe this. Twenty-three percent think he was born somewhere else; 30 percent don’t know.

But how many Southern *whites*** **aren’t sure whether the president has lied about his citizenship? The “South” defined by the poll includes 30 percent of the country’s population, in twelve states: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. That’s around 99.2 million people, of whom 61.3 million are non-Hispanic whites, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the exit polls in those 12 states, 30.6 percent of the voters in this region who cast ballots in 2008 were black, Hispanic or members of another minority group.

According to Del Ali of Research 2000, if you excluded those people from the poll—if you look only at white voters in the South—the number of people who doubt Obama’s citizenship is  higher than the 47 percent figure that has grabbed headlines today. “There was no deviation in the number of black, Hispanic, and other voters from one region of the country to another,” Ali told TWI. In the South, like everywhere else, the vast majority of non-white voters said that Obama was born in the United States; 97 percent of black voters, 87 percent of Hispanic voters, and 88 percent of other minorities. The extremely low overall percentage? That’s due to white Southerners, who dragged down the average with an extremely high level of doubt about Obama.

So what proportion of Southern whites doubt that Obama is an American citizen? While Ali did not release the racial breakdowns for the the South, and cautioned that the margin of error in the smaller sample of 720 people would be larger than the national margin of error (2 percent), the proportion of white Southern voters with doubts about their president’s citizenship may be higher than 70 percent. More than 30 percent of the people polled in the South were non-white, and very few of them told pollsters that they had questions about Obama’s citizenship. In order for white voters to drive the South’s “don’t know” number to 30 percent and it’s “born outside the United States” number to 23 percent, as many as three-quarters of Southern whites told pollsters that they didn’t know where Obama was born.

One thing to keep in mind, if only a quarter or a fifth of white Southerners believe Obama was born in the United States, that’s more than voted for him last year in some states.  Obama won 14 percent of the white vote in Louisiana, 14 percent in Mississippi, and 10 percent in Alabama.

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