The Challenge of Measuring The Right-Wing Fringe

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The Daily Beast reports today the results of a Harris Research poll that will be released tomorrow. Among the findings:

  • 67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist.
  • 57 percent of Republicans (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim
  • 45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was “not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president”
  • 38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”
  • Scariest of all, 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama “may be the Antichrist.”

The poll, with a sample of 2,230 people, appears to have been conducted online, a methodology that is heavily debated in the polling industry because it may skew results. (For more on this controversy, read Mark Blumenthal, a.k.a. the Mystery Pollster, here and here.) We also don’t know how the questions were asked. But at least one of these results has been roughly reproduced before. A Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll in February found that 63 percent of self-identified Republicans considered Obama a “socialist,” a term that has different meanings for different people. (In some circles, any support of expanding government services, spending or responsibility is considered “socialism.”)

But that same Kos poll found that 36 percent of Republicans believed Obama was not born in the United States, substantially less than the Harris figure of 45 percent. Why the disparity? Either one of the polls is wrong, or about one in ten Republicans found a reason in the last six weeks to doubt the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate. The latter seems unlikely. Another option: People answer polls not to say what they actually believe but to register their anger. The Harris poll was done during the height of the health care debate frenzy.

The Harris responses about Obama’s religion are also odd. Pew polls in 2008 and 2009 found that the portion of Republicans who thought Obama was a Muslim unchanged: 17 percent. What would explain that number more than tripling in the last year to 57 percent? I have no idea, though it makes me wary of taking the Harris poll too seriously.

Suffice it to say, I am not aware of previous polls asking whether or not Obama is either acting like Hitler or the Antichrist.