Are a Quarter of Americans Just Plain Dumb?

Like a pack of junkyard dogs with bones, some folks across this polarized land stubbornly hold onto their ignorance and misperceptions. Extend a hand with more reasonable fare, and they bare their teeth and growl. Occasionally, they bite. Logic, facts, and a calm demeanor have no sway with them. It’s a real problem—exacerbated by the disgruntled souls that egg the dogs on. Our democracy is in peril.

From today’s New York Times:

In Defining Obama, Misperceptions Stick

Americans need only stand in line at the grocery checkout counter to glimpse the conspiracy theories percolating about President Obama. “Birthplace Cover-Up,” screams the current issue of the racy tabloid Globe. “Obama’s Secret Life Exposed!”

The article claims, without proof, that Mr. Obama uses a phony Social Security number as “part of an elaborate scheme to conceal that he is not a natural-born U.S. citizen.” Despite evidence to the contrary from Obama aides — they posted his birth certificate, from Hawaii, on the Internet during his presidential campaign — polls show that as many as one quarter of Americans still believe Mr. Obama was born outside the United States.

Now comes fresh evidence of misperceptions about the president taking root in the public mind: a new poll by the Pew Research Center finds a substantial rise in the percentage of Americans who believe, incorrectly, that Mr. Obama is Muslim. The president is Christian, but 18 percent now believe he is Muslim, up from 12 percent when he ran for the presidency and 11 percent after he was inaugurated.

The findings suggest that, nearly two years into Mr. Obama’s presidency, the White House is struggling with the perception of “otherness” that Candidate Obama sought so hard to overcome — in part because of an aggressive misinformation campaign by critics and in part, some Democratic allies say, because Mr. Obama is doing a poor job of communicating who he is and what he believes.

The president’s recent comments on the controversy over whether to build an Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero in Lower Manhattan have most likely intensified suspicions about him. Yet the Pew survey, completed before Mr. Obama spoke out in favor of the right of Muslims to build the center, shows that misperceptions were building even before then.

“This is an expression of the people who are opposed to Obama having an increasingly negative view of him,” said Andrew Kohut, the Pew center’s director.

But Mr. Kohut also said the numbers reflected that Mr. Obama had “not made religion a part of his public persona” as much as he did during his presidential campaign — so much so that even his own supporters are confused.

Among Democrats, for example, just 46 percent said Mr. Obama was Christian, down from 55 percent in March 2009, two months after he took office. As to the issue of his birthplace, a CNN poll released this month when the president turned 49 found that 27 percent of Americans doubted he was born in the United States. A New York Times/ CBS News poll in April put the figure at 20 percent.

The White House has at times seemed to throw up its hands at the so-called birther conspiracy. “We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what to do about people that don’t think the president was born here,” Robert Gibbs, Mr. Obama’s press secretary, said in April.

But Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said aides did work hard to push back against misinformation in a news media environment in which “the tweets of discredited rabble-rousers have as much credence to many as the pronouncements of the paper of record.” [full story]

14 thoughts on “Are a Quarter of Americans Just Plain Dumb?

  1. Um, Hawaii is not attached to the United States. If I can’t walk to it, it is not part of America.

    So to answer your original question–yes, yes they are.

  2. I think another factor is the ongoing relentless attacks on Obama fom the pervasive right-wing media which includes all of talk radio, most cable TV, and the dedication of right-wingers to dominate the letters and even blogs. Extreme views such as Obama-as-Hitler are encouraged to make slightly less extreme views seem more moderate. The right-wing was determied tto bring him down from day 1, note how the “anti-deficit” tea party materialized right at the very beginnng of the Obama administration though none of them noticably complained when W Bush converted Clinton’s surpluses into huge deficits.

    On the more liberal side, Obama is also sniped at by champions of unions, gay rights, health care, Islamic interests, immigrant advocates, enviromentalists and such for not doing more to advance their agendas.

    So the net result is a public willing to believe negative things about him.

  3. Nice little arrogant,elitist opinion piece here.You blithely dismiss may Americans because they hold an opinion you dislike.You compare them to stupid dogs.
    You’re a social services provider?God help us.I recall when you gave out $2500 at random to people at a food pantry.I have given that much and more for similar causes without being a patronizing fool.At least I know WHERE it’s going-to organizations that support those truly needy.Your egotistic little act may have benefited people just showing up for freebies.Who knows?I don’t and neither did you.
    Now: I believe Obama was born in the USA and I guess that although he had a Muslim father and Muslim stepfather,and attended a Muslim school for some period,he’s a Christian because he attended a Christian(racist though)church for 20 years and brought his children up in that church.A practicing Muslim would never do such a thing.Religion is a matter of personal choice.
    I just intensely dislike Obama for what he DOES as President.And allows someone like Eric Holder to do.Now,tell me I’m a stupid dog,okay?

  4. Great to have you back, David.
    In the church I went to there was a saying, ‘if you were accused of being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?’
    As much as you can say of any politician, Barack Obama acts in accord with his Christian church, United Church of Christ.
    This is a liberal denomination, I worked with Beneficent Church in Providence. They are not anti-white and work very hard to promote tolerance and respect, especially for people who have been treated as less than full Americans because of the color of their skin or who their parents were.
    I think it was Martin Luther King who said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America. I think the ‘Muslim’ lies stick because too many think that the ‘real’ Christian walks in lockstep with the religious right instead of in the way of the cross.

  5. And just to mention, during the last presidential campaign the word ‘elitist’ was thrown around so much I was sure it was the new ‘uppity’.
    If it’s elitist to worry that Americans are being persuaded to believe falsehoods about our politicians instead of looking at their records then call me elitist, because I’m worried. I always read the Globe when I’m in line at the Stop and Shop.

  6. Yeah,I must read the Star or some other rag.
    I think people like you and your liberal friends use the word “racist” a little loosely.David sounds like he thinks he’s smarter than 90% of humanity,so I think elitist is accurate-it has nothing to do with money.
    I don’t know anything about the church you mentioned,but Rev.Wright is a racist and anti-semite.Who else would give a lifetime achievement award to a piece of garbage like Louis Farrakhan?
    BTW,you can cram your Christain,Jewish,and Muslim beliefs as far as I’m concerned.
    Organized religion exists to justify the existence of clergymen.
    People need to find their own beliefs,or not,whatever makes them happy.
    You take an evil glee in the discomfiture of Christians who you consider to be hypocrites.Trouble is,in the process you get all holier than thou.I sure don’t think I want eternal life or admittance to some “heaven”-the fact that I believe in God the Creator doesn’t mean I necessarily think there’s someplace after this.
    I get most of my opinions about Islam from listening to Islamics,not some talking head on Fox or MSNBC.
    What I hear is often disquieting.
    The religious fanatics of this world are bound and determined to go down in fire.
    Where is Surt?

  7. Just to clarify, I do not object to people holding different opinions than myself or holding a negative opinion of our President. What I do object to is steadfast irrationality and ignorance of fact. It is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Maintaining that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Muslim, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, is not an opinion. It is an irrational belief—or worse, a delusion. Those who hold such a belief, particularly when we are at war with extremist Muslims, may understandably feel threatened by Obama and his adherents. They may feel the need to aggressively respond to that perceived threat and feel justified in doing so because of what they ostensibly know (and have heard parroted by Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, and others). That alarms me. Absence of reason is anathema to a healthy democracy.

    By the way, Observer, your vitriolic comments and ad hominem attacks say far more about you than either myself or Nancy. It is difficult to hear you when you screech.

  8. David-you should be arguing with a mirror.I never spent two minutes worrying about Obama’s birthplace or whether he was a Muslim.
    I think he and his cohorts are a threat to our way of living-he want to collectivize this country in a relatively short period of time.
    He doesn’t pack the gear to deal with world affairs.
    You said I made an ad hominem attack?I was telling the truth,mister.Patting yourself on the back and waiting for the adulation of the “do-gooders”here for handing out money at random.It would’ve made sense to have given that money to the food pantry and then you’d KNOW it would be going towards supplying necessities to people.
    For all you know,it went into the slots at Twin River.It’s scary that you get paid to help people straighten out their lives.Most social workers I’ve known led disorganized lives themselves.They also have a nauseating patronizing attitude.
    Frankly,social work is largely a scam.It seems designed to maintain people in a dependency mode.
    I have seen some exceptions,particularly with social workers who counsel the elderly and those with serious physical illnesses,but in general they do more harm than good.
    Your wholesale attack on people as delusional is kind of snotty,no?

  9. Wow.

    I’ll say it again.

    Wow.

    What is up with observer? What’s with the name-calling? Got anything of substance to say?

    Don’t like what Obama does as pres? What part don’t you like: trying to put people back to work? Trying to clean up the cesspool of our ‘financial sector’ that has played us all for chumps over the past 20 years, skimming off trillions of dollars w/o contributing anything useful to the ecomony?

    Guess you’re OK with Goldman Sachs and Angelo Mozillo pocketing their billions while the rest of us fight over scraps.

    Guess you’re OK with health insurers cutting off people’s benefits the moment they get really sick. You apparently agree with insurance companies taking in premiums over years, but finding ways to weasel out of paying anything back in benefits. Can’t do anything to jeopardize those fat bonuses, now can we?

    See, those are the things Obama has been doing as pres. If you don’t like them, you must have been thrilled with the status quo circa 2008 when it all hit the fan and the money market threatened to seize up, when unemployment was skyrocketing, people were losing benefits, and we had two (count ’em) wars that were running on inertia because the GOP couldn’t manage to do anything about them.

    Yup, they sure were foreign policy titans, them Bushies.

    “Frankly, social work is largely a scam.”

    I’ll say it again. Wow.

    Can you prove that? Can you present any evidence of this? Or are you going to continue simply to call people names?

    And David did not say people are delusional. He said there is a concerted misinformation campaign being waged, financed by Scaife and Mellon and Coors and the Chamber of Commerce and Fox News–which, btw, just gave ONE MILLION DOLLARS to the Republican Governors Association. Got that? A ‘news’ organization gave big bucks to an organization whose sole purpose is to elect Republicans.

    Guess you think that’s “fair and balanced.” But no, you don’t get your news from Fox. Or Rush. But you somehow manage to parrot them and their techniques verbatim. Very impressive.

    So, what kind of names you going to call me now?

  10. I don’t plan calling you any names at all.
    It’s nice to see that you got all bent out of shape ranting at someone who could not care less about you or what you have to say.

  11. Observer, we are a small site without much to distinguish us except civility. We provide a space where people can express different views and really discuss, not insult. Getting people bent out of shape is not what we’re here for. Personal digs don’t accomplish anything useful.
    When you want to share an interesting idea you are welcome, but making judgements and assumptions about other people’s character is getting in the way of whatever point you’re trying to make.

  12. Tell that to klaus,with his sneering contempt and assumptions about where others get their ideas.
    I have an attitude about social workers which I developed from watching them in “action”.
    Like I said,some do a very good job,but others seem more interested in perpetuating their reason for existing than anythng else.
    Klaus made a particularly nasty comment around July 4 when he explained how he had to divert from a nice family day and deign to lecture me about something or other.As if anything he says matters to me.
    I realize Fox generally supports Republicans,but the NBC/MSNBC network is in the tank for Obama/Pelosi,etc 24/7.Fair’s fair.
    Actually I never addressed klaus at all,so if he got “bent out of shape”that’s his problem.He posted because he wanted to.He could have saved his energy.
    I didn’t grovel in awe at David Jaffe handing out money on the street. Well,shame on me.I told him why I thought it was not such a bright idea and quite self-serving in the process.I didn’t call him any names,athough I said it was an egotistic kind of showboating.
    Since I don’t know klaus or David Jaffe personally,there’s nothing I can say about them other than related to what they post here.
    So,klaus whines that I’m “name calling”-now either klaus or yourself can please cut and past such name calling or just be honest.

  13. FWIW Obama and his coterie have their own group of greedy rich people quite equal to Bush and his stinky crew.
    Klaus,in his fervor to pigeonhole me,has missed the point that I think the Bush administration sucked almost as much as this one,and more so on Iraq.
    The idea of holding civilian trials for the terrorists in NYC is a glaring example of Obama’s tendency to rookie errors.
    He doesn’t seem to be competent at the job.
    This isn’t baseball where a neophyte can be sent back to the minors.All I can hope is that November will stymie this man in his ill considered moves.
    Klaus obviously wants the country turned on its head.Responsible change should be done with deliberation,not by passing multithousand page bills that no one can read.
    Klaus’ adulation of the European lifestyle to the derision of ours tells me all I need to know about him.

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