Friday, January 15, 2016

That "Birther" Thing

It's so nice to write about a birther issue that doesn't involve Barack Obama. I published a couple of research articles on that topic, so I'm more or less read into the extant literature. In other words, I know what I'm talking about. But of course now we have Ted Cruz, that Canadian-Texan-American candidate for the GOP nomination and the "birther" questions about him, fueled mostly by Donald Trump.

The law stuff doesn't interest me. I'm not a lawyer, so I leave the constitutional questions to folks who understand this stuff. Instead, let's look at ... the polling.

Here's a new poll out about Cruz, and I've pasted the news lede below for your enjoyment:
A quarter of Republicans think White House hopeful Ted Cruz is disqualified to serve as U.S. president because he was born in Canada to an American mother, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll found.
A quarter is a decent number, given it's fellow Republicans. Yeah yeah, but what kind of poll is this? You can't tell from this version, so let's dig a little deeper. Except I'm having no luck finding the poll's methodology. Type "birther" into the Reuters poll search bar and you get zilch. It's a Friday afternoon. I give up. Nevertheless, I suspect it's a robo-poll or perhaps an Internet opt-in panel poll, neither of which qualifies as the gold standard of polling (live humans, dialing live humans, on landline and cell phones).

In the debate last night Cruz admirably shrugged off Trump's attacks, or at least it seemed to me. That said, how many undecided folks actually watched the debate? On my cable TV it played out on Channel 77. I didn't even know I had a Channel 77. This is the kind of niggling doubt that can affect a candidate like Cruz, who isn't all that likable in the first place, and especially when Iowa appears (at least according to the polls) to be a tight race. A lot of political observers believe the tightness of the polls mask the actual turnout Cruz will see, as compared to Trump, when it's time to caucus. I agree, and yet Trump continues to surprise us. The man is amazing.

OK, a thing about belief in conspiracy theories, or at least stuff like birtherism that comes close enough to that category to warrant a look. Here's what the research tells us -- there are a lot of folks who believe in this kind of stuff for ideological or partisan reasons, but there are lots of folks who believe in conspiracies or misperceptions that cross ideological boundaries. In other words, some folks are born conspiracists. At a gut level they believe the system is rigged against them and tend to believe in any theory that supports that gut feeling.

My hunch? That quarter of Republicans is made up mostly of Trumpsters, but also there's a chunk of folks in there who believe anything if it somehow fits a conspiracy theory model -- that powerful outside forces conspire to work against average people.

Enough theorizing. Have a helluva weekend.

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