America’s most prominent birther has finally disavowed the myth he helped to create. Will Donald J. Trump’s concession affect the public’s belief about whether President Obama was born in the United States?
Results from a new Morning Consult poll of registered voters suggest that fewer Americans now believe that President Obama was born outside the country — the false claim that Mr. Trump renounced last Friday — although birtherism continues to linger among a subset of the public.
The poll finds that only 62 percent of Americans say President Obama was born in the United States, but that’s a substantial increase from the 48 percent who said this in a Morning Consult poll conducted in January. (The number who said they didn’t know his place of birth was essentially unchanged: 18 percent in January, 17 percent now.)
Beliefs that Mr. Obama was born here increased across partisan groups: from 29 percent to 44 percent among Republicans; from 45 percent to 58 percent among independents; and from 67 percent to 82 percent among Democrats.
However, birther beliefs continue to persist among 21 percent of the public. Most notably, 33 percent of Republicans still say Mr. Obama was not born in this country, though this figure represents a significant increase from January, when 51 percent of Republicans endorsed the myth. (Twenty-two percent of independents and 10 percent of Democrats still endorse it as well.)
The Morning Consult estimates confirm the findings of a Huffington Post/YouGov poll conducted after Mr. Trump’s announcement. That poll also found that more people now think Mr. Obama was born in the United States, though approximately one in five continued to say they thought he was ineligible for the presidency.
These results highlight both the potential and the limits of corrective information. Mr. Trump’s statement renouncing the myth might provide an especially credible and persuasive signal about the falsity of the claim to true believers.
Yet the human capacity to resist contradictory evidence can be remarkable. According to a report in Politico from a recent Trump rally, for instance, “the birthers and non-birthers all seemed to think that Trump has privately agreed with them all along, and all praised his flip-flop as a shrewd political stratagem to change an inconvenient subject.” Mr. Trump himself said Wednesday that he reversed himself because “we want to get on with the campaign.”
So it should not be surprising that the effects of Mr. Trump’s reversal are somewhat limited. Even the release of Mr. Obama’s long-form birth certificate in April 2011 had a relatively small and short-lived effect on beliefs about his place of birth. According to polling by M.I.T.’s Adam Berinsky, belief that Mr. Obama was born in the United States increased by a similar amount (12 percentage points over all, 17 percentage points among Republicans) after the birth certificate was released in 2011. By January 2012, however, G.O.P. belief in the myth was actually greater than it had been before the birth certificate was released.
At this point, it is unclear what evidence could convince the birthers that Mr. Obama is indeed legally eligible to serve as president.