On April 22, the NY Times published 7 opinion pieces under the umbrella title:
The Psychology of the 'Birther' Myth
Racial Resentment at Its Root
California, Los Angeles.
Mainstream media are not considered authoritative sources to most 'birthers,' compared with their own social networks.
Racial resentment more strongly affected evaluations of his opponents, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, than it had before the campaign or since. And it more strongly affected evaluations of Obama’s issue positions on taxes and health care than it had before. The campaign in 2008 was the most racialized in recent history, despite little explicit reference to it during the campaign.
How is that relevant to the birthers? Consider three powerful principles in political psychology: strong prior attitudes can powerfully influence responses to an unfamiliar issue, especially if authoritative sources associate the issue with such attitudes, and if the new issue is inherently ambiguous.
Party identification and racial resentment are perhaps the two most strongly held contemporary political attitudes. But one might protest, no authoritative sources associate Obama with foreign birth. Wrong. The New York Times and other mainstream media are not considered authoritative sources to most birthers, especially compared with many low-level conservative political operatives, or their like-minded social networks.
If you were a birther, would you trust your neighbor who spends his evenings on the Internet and watching Fox News, or the Times? All of us have heard of forged official documents, from under-aged college students’ faked id’s to illegal aliens’ stolen social security numbers. Why not Obama’s birth certificate?
And Obama’s persona is inherently ambiguous. He is multiracial and did not grow up in a traditional African American community. He is associated with Kenya, Indonesia, Kansas, Hawaii, Columbia and Harvard, not Harlem. No one would doubt that Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton was born in the United States. In our research we found that evaluations of Muslims were powerfully associated with evaluations of Obama, even controlling on racial resentment. We interpreted that as meaning that many see Obama as “other,” like Muslims and other unfamiliar groups.