30 August, 2010

Obama a Muslim? New Survey Results

On August 18, 2010, The PEW  Research Center released a new poll: Growing Number of Americans Say Obama is a Muslim subtitled “Religion, Politics and the Presidents.” Here are selected findings from that study.
These data were collected between 21 July and 5 August, 2010
(Before the great controversy over building the Muslim Center near the 9/11 site)

Obama and Religion: Total Population Findings.
Looking at the entire US population there has been a decline in the Percentage of Americans who believe that President Obama is a Christian. The major decline came between March 2009 and August 2010. Just since March, 2009 the percentage who believe that Obama is a Christian has dropped by 14 percentage points from 47% to 34%. On the other hand, the percentage of the American population who believe that Obama is a Muslim has increased  by 7 points from 11% to 18%. Finally, The percentage of all Americans who “Don’t Know” what Obama’s religion is stands at43%, a 9 point increase. As of August, 2010 a plurality of Americans say they don’t know what Obama’s religion is.
Compared to George W. Bush (in 2004), Obama is felt to rely less (“Not very much  +15%) on his religious beliefs when making policy than Bush. In 2004, 24% of Americans thought that Bush mentioned his religious beliefs and prayer too much, while today only 10% feel that Obama mention his beliefs and prayer too much. However, when observing all the responses to these questions, it appears that, “…the public generally [48%] says that Obama relies on his religious beliefs the right amount when making policy decisions.
The approval or not of President Obama’s job performance is related to a person’s opinion of whether or not he is a Christian or Muslim. It seems much more likely that attitudes about job performance depends more on beliefs about his religion than the reverse. Fully 62% of those who believe that Obama is a Christian approve of his job performance, 67% of those who believe he is a Muslim disapprove of how the president is handling his job. This is a very strong correlation.
Which Sub-Groups are more likely to believe that the President is a Muslim?

Those most likely to believe that Obama is a Muslim are his political opponents. One-third of Republicans (31%) and slightly more “Conservative Republicans” (34%) believe that the President is a Muslim. As stated in the Report, “The share of Republicans who said Obama is a Muslim has nearly doubled over the past year and a half – from 17% to 31%.” As mentioned above, 67% of those who disapprove of Obama’s job performance believe he is a Muslim.
Among Independents there has been an eight percentage point increase in those who believe that Obama is Muslim between 2009 (10%) and 2010 (18%). Among Democrats there has been virtually no change in the percentage between 2009 (7%) and 2010 (10%).
There is a significant racial gap in opinions about Obama’s religion. Among blacks there has been virtually no change in the number of blacks who believe that Obama is a Muslim between 2009 (6%) and 2010 (7%). However, the percentage of whites who now believe Obama is a Muslim has doubled between 2009 (11%) and 2010 (21%) Almost one-fifth of the white population now believes that the President is a Muslim. It is also true that the percentage of blacks and whites who believe that Obama is a Christian have decreased by 13% and 15% respectively.
The major change here in belief about Obama’s religion is among white Catholics and white mainline Protestants that  the President is a Muslim. The percentage change between 2009 and 2010 for white Catholics was +13% and for white mainline Protestants +12%. These changes were somewhat higher even than among Evangelical Protestants (+9%). Currently, the percentage saying that Obama is a Christian are: white mainline Protestants (36%), white Catholics (35%), white Evangelicals (27%).
Those unaffiliated with any denomination are the most likely to say Obama is a Christian (38%) and the least likely to say that he is a Muslim (13%).
What is most notable, however, is the increase for all religious groups in the percentage who don’t know what the President’s religion is . Currently, except for liberal democrats (31%), forty percent or more of every religious group say they now don’t know what Obama’s religion is. The 2009-2010 change for all Catholics and all Protestants was +10%, but among white Catholics it was an increase of 14%.

Summary and Opinion:
There is no doubt that opinions about President Obama’s religion have changed significantly between 2009 and 2010. In October 2008 just over half (51%) of the American population said Obama was a Christian and 12% thought he was a Muslim. Today (August, 2010, before all the debate over the Muslim Community Center near the 9/11 site), only one-third (34%) say Obama is a Christian and nearly one-fifth (18%) say he is Muslim. Among the groups who have changed in this direction the most are: Republicans, especially conservative  Republicans; those who disapprove of how the President is handling the responsibilities of his office, Mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Evangelical Protestants couldn’t increase much because belief that Obama has always been high. In terms of race, whites are more likely than blacks to have moved to the idea the Obama is Muslim.
It is abundantly clear that the people’s opinions have changed in this short period of time. This says nothing, however, about whether the President is in fact a Christian or a Muslim. In the United States we usually accept a person’s claim to be a member of a particular faith. What real, demonstrative evidence is there that Obama is in deed  Muslim? Those who believe that he is Muslim should produce hard evidence showing he is Muslim.
However, as W. I. Thomas said long ago, “What people believe to be true is true in its consequences.” Thus, those who believe that Obama is a Muslim may very well oppose the President’s policy decisions and programs based on their fear or hatred of Muslims.
One explanation for such wide change in opinion in such a short time, notices that political and religious conservatives are the most likely to proclaim that Obama is a Muslim. These groups, as well as conservative media (Eg. FOX News) are thought to have been working to generate this unfounded opinion to influence political decisions (Eg. voting in the 2010 Congressional elections). The data here do not tell this story; it is a descriptive study. However, the data do make this a plausible argument. Another reason for change may exist in the fact that, for example, political and religious conservatives oppose abortion and gay marriage. Shifting attention to Obama’s religion may be an easier way to turn people against the President than broaching those issues where there is significant and vocal opposition.

The full report has additional sections on “Religion and Politics” and “Religion and the 2010 Elections.

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