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By Sue Owen May 23, 2012

UPDATED: Gilberto Hinojosa says “large majority” of Republicans believe Obama is foreign-born and a Muslim

Seeking support in his bid to chair the Texas Democratic Party, Gilberto Hinojosa recently opened an Austin speech by tackling Republicans’ criticism of the president.

"A large majority of the Republican Party believes that this man is a Muslim and was born in a foreign country, was not born in the United States," he said at the Central Texas Democratic Forum on April 24, 2012.

Are those views really commonplace in the GOP more than three years into Obama’s presidency?

PolitiFact has debunked claims that Obama follows or formerly followed the Islamic faith. Even so, in August 2010 we wrote that 18 percent of Americans believed he was a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009, according to Pew Research Center data. A Time poll also released in 2010 claimed the number was 24 percent.

Often linked is the belief that Obama was not born in the United States. Here, too, PolitiFact has debunked numerous related claims, many involving the president’s birth certificate.

We asked Hinojosa, a lawyer and former Cameron County judge, for backup on his claim about the "large majority" of Republicans. He said he’d seen "numerous publications and blogs where that fact is mentioned." He provided no documentation.

Americans have indeed been polled many times on these questions, sometimes in conjunction with news items such as plans for a mosque near the site of 9/11’s terrorist attacks in New York (a big topic in August 2010); Obama releasing his long-form Hawaii birth certificate (April 27, 2011) and the killing of Osama bin Laden (May 2, 2011).

A two-state poll touched off headlines in March 2012, the month before Hinojosa’s remark. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-oriented firm, found that among residents who said they planned to vote in their upcoming GOP primary, 52 percent in Alabama and 42 percent in Mississippi said they believed Obama was a Muslim.

That "Southern Swing" poll got a lot of press and social media reaction -- more so than the same pollsters’ March 2012 results from Obama’s home state of Illinois, in which 39 percent of likely GOP primary voters said he was Muslim and 36 percent said he was foreign-born.

Then again, the "Southern Swing" ran about 48 states shy of the whole country, and only counted a subset of Republicans.

We found eight national polls, from March 2009 through May 2011, that asked these questions and broke down results by respondents’ political affiliation.

Several pollsters cautioned against a too-literal reading of their results, noting a polling phenomenon that ABC News described in an Aug. 30, 2010, blog post: "Some people who strongly oppose a person or proposition will take virtually any opportunity to express that antipathy. Offer a negative attribute, they’ll grab it."

We’ve posted details from these polls in chart form online. In this story, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll showcase the highest and lowest percentage of responses for each of the two questions.

On Obama’s religion, the biggest percentage of Republicans answering "Muslim" was 46 percent in an August 2010 Time poll. The lowest was 17 percent in a March 2009 Pew Research Center for People & the Press poll.

On Obama being born outside the country, the highest result was 43 percent of Republicans in an April 2011 USA Today/Gallup poll. The lowest was 14 percent in an April-May 2011 Washington Post poll.

So, a "large majority" of Republicans did not endorse either of these answers.

Still, there is another definition of "majority" that could be applied: "the greatest share," as in the type of election where the candidate with the most votes wins. And in three of the polls, "Muslim" and "foreign born" were the answers most often given by Republicans.

In the Time poll, that 46 percent who answered "Muslim" is nearly double the Republicans giving the next-most popular answer (24 percent who said "Christian"). In the USA Today/Gallup poll, 43 percent is one-and-three-quarter times as much as the 25 percent who answered "definitely" or "probably" born in the U.S. In contrast, a February-March 2011 Pew poll on birthplace was more evenly split, with the 37 percent of Republicans who answered that Obama was born in "another country" edging out the 33 percent who said "United States" and 30 percent who said they didn’t know or declined to answer.

Hinojosa didn’t respond when we shared these poll results.

Our ruling

National polls consistently show less than half -- sometimes much less than half -- of Republicans saying Obama is a Muslim or born abroad, though both falsehoods have sometimes been the No. 1 Republican responses.

Regardless, there is no indication that a "large majority" of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim or that he was born abroad. Hinojosa’s statement rates False.

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UPDATE, 12:33 p.m., May 31, 2012: After we published this article, a reader pointed out we’d missed a March 2010 Harris Interactive poll indicating 57 percent of Republicans believed Obama to be a Muslim. After reviewing the poll, and weighing critiques of its methodology and wording, we left this story and the statement’s False rating unchanged. See more on the Harris poll here.

Our Sources

In-person and email interviews with Gilberto Hinojosa, April 24-May 2, 2012

Public Policy Polling "Southern Swing" poll, March 12, 2012

Public Policy Polling Illinois poll, March 18, 2012

ABC News blog post, "This I Believe," August 30, 2010

Time/SRBI poll conducted August 16-17, 2010

Email interviews with Carl Brown, research assistant at Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, May 16, 2012

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life poll conducted March 9-12, 2009

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life poll conducted July 21-August 5, 2010

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll conducted February 22-March 1, 2011

Email interviews with Carroll Doherty, associate director, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, May 16-17, 2012

USA Today/Gallup poll conducted April 20-23, 2011

USA Today/Gallup poll conducted May 5-8, 2011

Email interviews with Gallup Communication Specialist Alyssa Brown, May 16-21, 2012

ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted April 22-25, 2010

Telephone and email interviews with Gary Langer, pollster for ABC News, May 16-18, 2012

Washington Post poll conducted April 28-May 1, 2011

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More by Sue Owen

UPDATED: Gilberto Hinojosa says “large majority” of Republicans believe Obama is foreign-born and a Muslim

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