Daily Kos Poll shows the Birther movement is a southern thing

Where do the birthers come from?

I have long argued that Southerners are distinctly more punitive than other Americans.  In an experimental post called “The Religious Roots of Southern Punitiveness,” I noted that rates of incarceration in the cluster of states just to the east of Texas are twice as high as the national average and that 82% of the executions administered since the death penalty was ressurrected in 1976 have been in the South.  Recently, when I expressed surprise that the Cambridge Police Department would arrest a distinguished black professor for disturbing the peace of an irritated officer,  several readers commented that folks in the Northeast are every bit as racist as the folks down south.

To an extent, I agree.  But civil rights resentment still runs strong in states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, states where the first African American president fared very poorly with white voters.   And now comes the Birther movement.  A hot-0ff-the-presses poll by The Daily Kos finds that, nationwide, when asked if Barack Obama was born in America, 77% said yes, 11% said no, and 12% weren’t sure. 

Considering that there is no evidence supporting the Birther position the 77% figure is a bit distressing.  But you ain’t seen nothin’.

Broken down by region, a disturbing trend emerges.  In the Northeast,  93% said yes, a tiny 4% said no, and 3% said they weren’t sure.  The “yes” vote in the Midwest was 90% and it was 87% in the West.  In the South, however, fully 47% of respondents thought Obama was born in the United States, 23% said he wasn’t and a whopping 30% said they weren’t sure. 

When you break the numbers down by party affiliation, Democrats and Independents answered the question much like folks in the Northeast, Midwest and West, but only 43% of Republicans nationwide believed the President is a citizen, while 28% said he wasn’t a citizen and 30% claimed they didn’t know.  That means that 58% of Republicans refuse to affirm that the President was born on American soil.

I would like to see the figures for white Republicans in states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas.  If 58% of Republicans nationally aren’t convinced that Barack Obama was born in the United States what do the numbers look like in Jena, Louisiana where 80% of the electorate voted for David Duke, or in Winona Mississippi where a state senator can freely admit membership in the most racist organization in America without raising a ripple of  concern in white Republican circles?

It could be argued that we are talking about an irrational position.  For those in the reality-based community, the President’s place of birth was settled long ago.  But this isn’t about evidence; it is about the refusal of a large percentage of southern whites to see a black president as one of us.  It’s about the perceived otherness of black America.

The Daily Kos poll determined that 69% of Birthers live in Southern states, 12% live in the Midwest, 12% in the West, and 6% in the Northeast.

What does all of this say about the objectivity of your typical all-white jury in rural Mississippi or Alabama when the victim is white and the defendant is black?  Do the majority of the people sitting on such a jury truly believe that the defendant is a genuine member of the community.  In such a situation does the phrase “a jury of one’s peers” have any meaning?

Sure, the current Gates vs. Crowley debate suggests that most white coastal moderates have a hard time identifying with the black American experience.  But the birther phenomenon goes much deeper than that.  It is a psychosis akin to the anti-civil rights rage we witnessed fifty years ago. 

The South is different; just ask the Birthers.

21 thoughts on “Daily Kos Poll shows the Birther movement is a southern thing

  1. Interesting statistics. I would ask the corollary question: Where do the Truthers come from? Has the Daily Kos done a region-and-party survey on the “Truther” belief complex? (Not likely, given the Kos’ orientation.) The “Truther” movement lends its name morphology to the “Birther” phenomenon, both being bizarre and insupportable beliefs. (For any who may not know, the “Truther” view holds that the Septemeber 11, 2001 terror attack on the United States was an “inside job” of the Bush-Cheney administration and other nefarious domestic forces.) I wonder what the Truther pie charts by area of the country and political party look like? My guess is that the greatest concentrations of “Truthers” are outside both the South and the Republican Party. Also, that the regional and party variation for belief in the most extreme and apocalyptic forms of Anthropogenic Global Warming reflects more heavily on those places like New England, most approved by Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy In America for their political systems even as he found their religious beliefs at times astonishing. So, each region and political affiliation has its different quirks of belief that vary sharply from the well-vetted facts reasonably considered.

    Therefore the criminal justice disparities must be sought elsewhere than in the implication that “Southerners (along with Republicans) are stupid and illogical.” A good question to ask is, “Are we really still getting all-white juries in places having substantial racial minorities?” Where the answer is “Yes,” we must ask why, and aggressively address the systemic reasons. The racial composition of a jury should more or less reflect the general population of the district. Part of the solution is to increase awareness among the minority population about the importance to the quality of justice for their own people of serving on juries. It is very disappointing to me when I have a minority defendant and most of the potential jurors of his own race cite one or another reason why they should be excused. The panel can start out looking well-enough racially balanced, and by the time people are excused who wish to be, and even before the prosecutorial challenges, it is not looking so well-balanced. I get the impression that very little is being done on the education front about this by civil rights organizations. If anyone knows different, I would appreciate being enlightened, and knowing how I can help.

    As for conviction and incarceration rates, I can tell you that Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate among the states, and that only Louisiana and Oregon allow criminal conviction by “majority verdict,” where ten out of twelve is statutorily enough to convict. The NACDL together with the Louisiana and Oregon criminal bars currently have a U.S. Supreme Court writ application pending challenging criminal “majority verdict” laws under Amendment VII of the U.S. Constitution. It seems that in Louisiana, at least, this law was originally passed, according to the floor debates of 1898 after Reconstruction, with specific intent “to assure the ascendancy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.” Note that “white” wasn’t specific enough for them— it might be construed to apply to, say, Italian, Greek, Irish or Polish people— those legislators wanted an “Anglo-Saxon” ascendancy, just five years after England’s Lord Rosebery wrote, as a justification for foreign wars of empire and colonialism, the following:

    “It is said that our Empire is already large enough and does not need expansion. We shall have to consider not what we want now, but what we want in the future. We have to remember that it is part of our responsibility and heritage to take care that the world, so far as it can be moulded by us, should receive the Anglo-Saxon and not another character.”

    One hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will take a dim view of such an illegitimate origin for the criminal “majority verdict” and overturn Apadoca v. Oregon. In a case of finding aid in odd places, a Justice Scalia dissenting opinion refers to the criminal defendant’s right to have his innocence or guilt “determined by a jury of twelve of his peers.” If we can win this reversal, it will make a huge difference in incarceration rates in Louisiana and Oregon.

    Another good question is, “Can we please address these issues without categorically stereotyping, and bashing, the South?” As a native I admit: many attitudes and beliefs, not necessarily prevalent, but fairly called “widespread” in the South leave something to be desired. But it is no less true that attitudes and beliefs _about_ the South are atrocious, and that many of the people who hold such views are Southerners themselves. Viz: one of my nieces, who has a Cajun surname and heritage, posted on her FaceBook Account the following query:

    [A] wonders if she’s the only person of Cajun descent who takes offense to being lumped into the “Southerner” category. I’ll go farther and say that surely, I can’t be the only one who finds it moronic to think that ALL people from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc. have the same habits, ways of thinking, belief systems, I.Q.s, and so on.

    Here are a sampling of the comments to her post:

    [B] no I would refer to southerners as hicks… cuntry folk…cowpeople….. I am a cajun .. a coonass thank you very much

    [C] you and J****** really like to argue now huh!! I think you should start lumping all “northerners” together cuz that would make Kansans the same as New Yorkers!

    [A] See, if I were from Mississippi, I’d be equally as upset if someone assumed I was just as “backwater” as one of the other states below the Mason-Dixon line. You know what I mean?

    [D] I am from Florida. People look at me like I have lost my mind when I call myself a Northerner. There is geographic location.. to which yes, [A] we are southerners… then there is the cultural location. FL is definitely NOT a part of the cultural south! (most where I am from dont call adults Miss so and so, or say ma’am or sir, and restaurants actually serve unsweet tea before they think to add sugar… just for a few examples)

    [E] I’m none of the above

    [F (East Indian given and surnames)] *ditto* but I feel that some of “us” do the same with other ethnicities (unfortunatley) – Human nature can suck sometimes

    [G] I like the ‘above I-10 vs below I-10′ distinction myself. [Note: A common joke by people residing south of Interstate 10 in Louisiana is that all who live north of I-10 are “Yankees.”]

    [A] Oooh, I do like that one. :)… unfortunately, Iota gets cut out… that there are some distinct Cajuns in the Iota [a distinctly Cajun town north of I-10] area. So, for my Iota roommate at the time, I changed it to north of Alexandria.

    [H] I agree with you entirely, [A]. I’m [from north of I-10 and] still Cajun!

    [I] everything above I-10 is north, but doesn’t mean you’re a northerner, just means youre not as lucky as the rest of us 😉 (no offense [H]) and yeah, coonass, its a different world even than cajun

    [J] I’ve learned that people tend to underestimate me because I am from Louisiana. It actually puts you at a distinct advantage in many situations. They can continue to believe that we are stupid coonasses. We know the truth… Screw ’em.

    [H] 11.37 miles from the nearest connection to I-10 does not a Yankee or nonCajun make. Now if you want to talk about Sulphur or Lake Charles. LOL Those people are nearly in the Gulf but they are too close to Texas to speak of. That Texas twang does not a Cajun accent make. This debate could rage on forever, you know. Some people say all that makes a Cajun is a Cajun last name and you ALL know that isn’t true a bit.

    [K] I agree whole-heartedly, being cajun myself, to being lumped in with “southerners”. I do adhere to a lot of the southern mentality, but the truly rich culture of the cajun world is one not to be discounted. Having lived in new york for 7 years, it is a distinction that I constantly find myself making. not to mention that the whole “where’s your accent?” thing gets really old.

    [L] Southerner, southerner? No, I am from south Lousiana..a rare distinction. Although I did think it was quite funny that while living and traveling abroad, people would ask me to “talk Southern” for them..Did not think my accent that was disitnct, apparently in London and elsewhere it is.

    [K] you’re so right! Being from southern louisiana is totally different from being southern!

    [M] I agree on the north of alexandria rule…. every time I go to the mall up there everyone looks at me like I am a freak …. well I am but that’s beside the point

    [N] I’ve always gotten the “where’s you’re accent” question. Just sometimes they want a southern drawl, sometimes a cajun, and the rare few that know that a new orelans sounds like a brooklyn look for that.

    [O] Its not just the culture, the food, the low IQs, and those things…its also the smell. And if the south isn’t as bad as you say it is…why do you spend so much time trying to set yourselves apart? Hmmmmm? We’re cajun? We have a distinctly different culture..pffft.

    [K] I think it’s quite the contrary. the south totally sucks. but being Cajun is a different thing than being a redneck. totally different upbringing.

    [P] Though I envy those with Cajun heritage other than by marriage and general acculturation, a few points: 1. The South is obviously, from everyone’s comments, not just one place. There is urban, rural, east, west, Gulf coastal plains, prairie, Ozark, Appalachia, Piedmont, and Atlantic Tidelands, in addition to unique enclaves like the Sea Islands, New Orleans, and Cajun South Louisiana. 2. The South gets a bad enough rap from regionist (read: damn Yankee) bigots without you Cajuns dumping on her too. 3. The South has multiple great cultures, celebrated literary traditions, and does not have a monopoly on “hicks” by any means (ever been to western New York State?). 4. Southern does not equal unsophisticated. I’ll put my IQ and education up against anyone’s, and I don’t “talk funny” though I hail from arguably the wildest part of Louisiana (see Wikipedia “Sabine Free State” , “Redbone (ethnicity)”, and “Adams-Oniz Treaty”). 5. The term “redneck” should be retired; it’s racist.

    [A] THANK YOU! That is what I meant with my comment!

    (It is probably not difficult for those familiar with my posts in these pages to recognize [P].)

    To the silly Truthers I would say that (1) President Obama was born in Hawaii, as reported by two local newspapers at the time as well as the hospital and repeatedly certified by state officials, and (2) he would have been a natural-born citizen even if he were born in Kenya, because his mother was a U.S. citizen. So stop embarrassing yourselves.

    By the way, it’s “punitive.”

  2. My goodness, King, that’s the longest comment ever to appear on this blog. Thanks for the heads up on the typo. I am certainly not suggesting that all southerners are punitive or racist; I am simply saying that the unique history of the South has produced a distinct species of resentment that is often evident in the criminal justice system. You are right about black people, especially in small towns, not wanting to serve on juries. There are many reasons for this. The felony rate is much higher in the black community than in the white, so many cannot serve. Also, the fact that black males are several times more likely to stand trial on a felony means that it is more likely that folks in the venire are personally acquainted with the defendant–this is particularly true in small towns. In communities where blacks comprise 25% of the population, these factors often mean that the black representation on the jury will be zero, one or two. Black people feel intimidated serving on an all-white jury in a small town when the defendant is also black. It places the minority juror in a very sticky position and many people, anticipating this situation, will do anything to get themselves excused. Who wants to be the guy that hung the jury. It could easily make you unemployable in small towns like Tulia, TX Jena, Church Point, and Bunkie, LA, and Winona, MS (just to cite some of the communities I have worked in). In Winona, James Bibbs hung the jury (one of three black jurors in a County that is over half black) and ended up indicted on a bogus perjury charge.

  3. Part of the controvery is that some people interpret the Constitution to mean that a person had to be born in on U.S. soil to become president.

    Ironically, John McCain was actually born in Panama. Isn’t it funny how people are selective about what they pay attention to?

  4. I think George Romney (Mitt’s Dad) was born in Mexico or somewhere in Latin America. His parents were missionaries and American citizens. He was a potential candidate for President but didn’t make it through the primaries. He was a natural born U. S. citizen. I don’t think the SCOTUS has ever ruled on this issue. Correct me, King, if I’m wrong. “Birther” and “Truther” are both extremely partisan issues, it seems to me. Having said that, I doubt that the “Truther” position among Democrats is anywhere near the “Birther” position among GOPers. I’m guessing. It would be interesting to see poll results on the issue, both geographically and by party. I don’t believe the “Birther” issue is primarily racial, although given the racial history in the US racial feelings are inextricably interwoven into this and many other issues.

    Shelagh, John McCain was a military baby. That probably gives him some special consideration as to place of birth.

  5. I think you’re right, Charles. According to this Wiki article (the accuracy of which I for cannot vouch), “Members of the (truth) movement hold diverse views on other political issues.”
    Also, liberal pundits haven’t taken up the issue and Democratic politicians haven’t been dropping dark hints and giving ambiguous answers to questions about 9-11. Support for the official 9-11 narrative has strong bi-partisan support. So the parallel doesn’t work at all. Sorry.

  6. Very interesting Wikipedia article. I think a signifificant number (I’m guessing) of birthers would also be truthers. I know some of the radical anti-government people; in fact some of them are in our family. And I’m sure they would be in both camps. Anything to discredit the government, whether the Bush 43 or the Obama administrations. Then there would be radical GOPers grasping at any straw to delegitimize the Obama presidency, and radical Democrats looking for any dirt on GWB.

    On Washington Week (PBS) last night, one of the pundits was remarking on how quickly and how radically Washington has turned partisan, with only one GOP senator on the judiciary committee voting for the confirmation of Sotomayor. They didn’t say who. Was that Lindsey Graham? Earlier in the hearings he had indicated he would probably vote for her. It will be interesting to see how GOP senators vote in the senate at large regarding her confirmation. Both Texas senators have signaled they will vote “no.” KBH has to vote no to have any hope of winning the GOP governor primary. And John Cornyn would vote no in any case.

  7. It was Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the most Southern of southern states, who voted to confirm. Grassley of Iowa is the only Republican on the Committee who could be considered Northern. It will be interesting to see how Graham’s vote impacts his political future.

  8. Graham was reelected Senator in 2008, so will not be up for reelection until 2014. But I would venture to say his vote for Sotomayor would jeopardize any chance he might have to be GOP nominee for Pres in 2012.

  9. Not specifically about birthers and truthers, but Frank Rich has a very interesting op. ed. in NY Times this morning regarding the racial tension he expects to last for the next 30 years or so, due to the dwindling white % of the population.

    Hey, I can’t post the longest blog, but I can post a whole slew of short ones that might approach the length of King’s long one.

  10. Moderat Left: You’re over generalizing. Many white southerners–I’m one of them–do believe that Obama is a real American. Many of us supported him in the primary and in the general. This kind of blanket generalization is offensive to many of us, and does not advance the cause of racial reconciliation.

  11. Earlier, at the end of my record-length post above, I meant to say “Birthers,” not “Truthers,” as everyone could probably see from the context.

    As for the general profile of the “Truthers” I remain unconvinced that they are not overwhelmingly non-Republicans, however diverse their political views may otherwise be, as asserted by Wikipedians. It just follows that an inidividual is less likely to believe such conspiratorial nonsense about the leaders of the party of his or her own registration, than to believe it about the leaders of a party deemed “other.” The fact Alan observed, that Dem pundits and politicians have not fueled the Truther insanity is certainly to their credit. Who can forget Bill Clinton’s incensed response to the Truther who stood up at one of his appearances: “How dare you? How dare you?”

    The “Birther” thing tends to break down similarly between those well-grounded in fact and those too willing to believe the bizarre, as well as willingness to believe more evil of the “other party” and its leaders, though I agree that racism and xenophobia in general seem certain to be playing roles. There are, believe it or not, plenty of rational Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, and others who were not Obama partisans at all, yet who defend him vociferously in the matter of his natural-born U.S. citizenship.

    Alan’s points about why black panelists seek to avoid selection for juries are all very well-taken. I recognize that it takes additional, sometimes special, courage for the black panelist to serve. I also recognize that the disparate impact of criminal justice on the black members of society further reduces the number of its eligible members, speaking of felony conviction rates. Thus with fewer black jurors with their generally greater unwillingness to believe accusers and police, the problem of more felony convictions of blacks, and the resulting effect on jury composition, tends to snowball. The metaphor is apt in more way than one.

  12. King, I would certainly expect that the truthers are overwhelmingly non-republican. I think that is what you are saying in your double negative sentence? I would expect truthers to be extreme Democrats, or anti-government Libertarians and Anarchists. Folks that tend to hate all government.

  13. Charles, correct on both counts, as to what I was trying to say, and as to the nature of my inarticulation.

  14. A helpful article, King, but it does an odd two-step around the southern strategy and fails to deal with civil rights resentment. There are good reasons why socially conservative blacks and latinos don’t feel at home in the GOP. Also, I have a problem with the old liberal assumption that more education is the answer. Civil rights resentment is well represented in the academy, if you move outside the humanities department, and is being taught in our better schools. The idea that America is now a post-racial community of equal soles simply does not resonate with blacks and latinos–conservative or liberal. The majority of Southern whites don’t really want a post-racial society. The majority of whites in the rest of the country naively assume the promised land has arrived and deeply resent anyone who suggests otherwise.

  15. Those who, like Alan, seek to deal with the issue of continuing racism are caught on the horns of a dilemma. Liberals must not secede from sanity and tar all white southerners with the same racist brush as the blog of the moderate left did above August 3. And frankly Alan I think apocalyptic language like Antichrist is counterproductive. I think pointing out anti-Christian attitudes is acceptable and necessary for a faith based organization like FOJ.
    I don’t know about the accuracy of the Daily Kos poll. During the election campaign I remember that their poll was not far from major polls. Even if it has a high margin of error of say 10%, still a high proportion of the birthers are white southern republicans. And one cannot ignore that politicians like Lydia C and Trent Lott allow themselves to be associated, probably for political reasons, with openly racist organizations. I think Alan is correct that there is a deep and abiding resentment of the civil rights movement in the South. LBJ was not just whistling Dixie when he confided in Bill Moyers after signing the voting rights act that the South would be lost for the Democrats for decades to come.
    I know from experience that there is a continuing resentment of FOJ in Tulia for our role in the Tulia Drug Sting. Most will admit now that the sting was wrong. “But you didn’t have to give Tulia such a bad name,” they say. But we did have to give Tulia a bad name. Unjustly to some degree. But without the bad name nothing would have happened in Tulia. Read all about it in “Taking Out the Trash in Tulia, Texas” by Alan Bean when it gets published.

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