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Birthers of a Nation: How the Obama "Birth Certificate" Issue is Playing Online

BY Micah L. Sifry | Sunday, August 2 2009

The news that American southerners are the most likely to question whether President Obama is actually a native-born citizen got a lot of attention last Friday, when a Research2000 survey on that question was released by DailyKos. Eleven percent of all Americans apparently do not believe Obama was born in the United States, but 23% of southerners (compared to roughly 5% of people from the other regions of the country) share that belief. I thought it would be interesting to see what various trend-culling tools might add to this picture.

A look at Google Trends is certainly illuminating. The top ten states where people are searching on the phrase "Obama birth certificate" are:
1. Louisiana
2. Mississippi
3. Colorado
4. Oklahoma
5. Alabama
6. Tennessee
7. Arkansas
8. Missouri
9. South Carolina
10. North Carolina

Of those, only Colorado is not part of the American South. Interestingly, Google's tracking suggests that search volume on that phrase was much higher in late October of last year (when the election was days away), while news reference volume is actually higher now. (Facebook's Lexicon tool, which tracks the appearance of words on people's "walls" shows a similar spike in usage of "birth certificate" on November 5th.)

Technorati shows that discussion of Obama's birth certificate is clearly spiking among bloggers:

Keyword popularity across the Blogosphere
This chart illustrates how many times blog posts across the Blogosphere contained the following keywords.


That said, references to the term "birther," which I think is most often used as a derisive way to make fun of the people who are pushing the "Obama-not-a-citizen" myth, are also spiking, in equal scale and pace:

Keyword popularity across the Blogosphere
This chart illustrates how many times blog posts across the Blogosphere contained the following keywords.


Twist, a Twitter app which allows you to track and compare the usage of terms over time, shows a similar trend, with "birther" emerging a bit after the "birth certificate" term rose to prominence:

The states where people are most searching for the term "birther," according to Google Trends, appear to be a mirror image of the southern states obsessing over his birth certificate. In order of rank, they are:
1. District of Columbia
2. Oregon
3. Colorado
4. New York
5. Washington
6. Maryland
7. Texas
8. Indiana
9. Massachusetts
10. Minnesota

With the exception of Texas, these are all states Obama won last November. Clearly, there's a serious split forming (or surfacing) in America. One more disturbing data point: The nearly 3 million views (!!) of a nearly two hour video called the "Obama Deception" ought to be a clear sign that the fear of Obama runs much deeper than many realize. Three million views of a video that long is a sure sign of intense interest, even if it's coming from a relatively narrow sliver of the population.