WASHINGTON—According to a poll released Tuesday, nearly 20 percent of U.S. citizens now believe Barack Obama is a cactus, the most Americans to identify the president as a water- retaining desert plant since he took office.
The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found a sharp rise in the number of Americans who say they firmly believe Obama was either born a cactus, became a cactus during his youth, or has questionable links to the Cactaceae family.
"We asked people of varying races, ages, and backgrounds the same question: 'What is President Barack Obama?'" Pew spokeswoman Jodi Miller told reporters. "And a fifth of them responded, 'A cactus.'"
According to the poll, Obama has lost favor among many voters who supported his candidacy in 2008 but have since come to doubt he is a mammal. While these Americans concede Obama may not specifically be a cactus, most believe he is a plant of some kind, with 18 percent saying the president is a ficus, 37 percent believing him to be a grain such as wheat or millet, and 12 percent convinced he is an old-growth forest in Northern California.
When asked why they agreed with the statement "President Obama is a large succulent plant composed of specialized cells designed for water retention in arid climates," many responded that they "just know," claiming the president only acts like a human being for political purposes and is truly a cactus at heart.
White House officials have asserted that the nation's 44th president is a person.
"You can't go a day without hearing how Obama's a radical cactus sympathizer who wants to sap America of all its drinking water, or how he was actually born in the Kalahari Desert," said media critic Lynn Pelmont, referring to cable news outlets that suggest the president has prickly spines he uses to protect himself from thirsty animals. "For a man who prides himself on delivering a coherent message, there's an awful lot of confusion out there about whether he's a Harvard Law graduate or a leafless flowering shrub."
"He must speak frankly to the American people about his mammalian background," Pelmont added. "If not, it's only a matter of time before people start believing those fringe bloggers who claim the president of the United States is actually an old washing machine."
Some Beltway observers have accused Republicans of tacitly encouraging the cactus rumor, pointing out that if millions of voters believe Obama produces buds through spirally arranged areoles situated along his stem, the GOP has a much better chance of retaking Congress in November.
"If the president says he is a human being, I'll take him at his word," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on Meet the Press. "Though I've never heard him complain about being thirsty. Not once. That could be a coincidence, I suppose, but it's really not my place to say."
During a Wednesday morning briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs once again denied that President Obama is a cactus, citing numerous physiological attributes of the nation's chief executive, including his ability to walk upright and to manipulate objects with his opposable thumbs.
"Cacti don't talk," said Gibbs, shaking his head. "They just don't."
President Barack Hussein Obama was born Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu, HI to parents Ann Dunham and Barack Obama, Sr. From the ages of 6 to 10 he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia, where he attended Besuki Public School and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School. In 1971, Obama returned to Hawaii, where he was raised primarily by his grandmother until he left home to attend Occidental College in Los Angeles.
"I don't care what he says or what his people say or what anybody else says," 48-year-old Kansas resident Jake Nolan told reporters. "The guy's a cactus, plain and simple. I mean, Christ, look at him."