Why do some voters still believe Obama is a Muslim?
Religion isn’t likely to be a decisive factor in November, but what explains this phenomenon?
A sizable chunk of the electorate wrongly believes that President Obama is a Muslim and a similar amount of voters say they are uncomfortable with his religion, according to new poll released Thursday.
Overall, 17 percent of registered voters say that Obama is a Muslim, while 49 percent correctly identify him as a Christian, a new Pew Research Center poll says. Thirty-one percent say they do not know his religion.
Among those who know he is a Christian, 82 percent say they are comfortable with his religion. But only 26 percent of those who believe he is a Muslim say they are comfortable with the president’s religion, with 65 percent saying they are uncomfortable with it. Overall, only 19 percent of voters are uncomfortable with Obama’s religion, and less than half (45 percent) say they are comfortable with it, and again, 31 percent don’t know that religion.
So what’s behind the notion that Obama is a Muslim?
Wikipedia provides a solid rundown of how the accusations got started and how they were perpetuated by opponents of Obama, mostly by conservative Republicans but also by members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008.
The number of voters who believe Obama is a Muslim is primarily driven by conservative Republicans. Whereas 16 percent of conservatives said in Oct. 2008 that Obama is a Muslim, 34 percent believe that today. Sixteen percent of independents (up from 11 percent in ‘08) and eight percent of Democrats also believe he’s of the Muslim faith.
In many ways, the notion that Obama is a Muslim appears to be a signifier of extreme dislike of the president rather than an informed belief about his religious background.
“Because of the increasing partisan polarization in perceptions of Obama’s faith, a Romney supporter today is much more likely than a McCain voter four years ago to say that Barack Obama is Muslim (30 percent vs. 17 percent in October 2008),” Pew writes.
Voters’ awareness of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is more pronounced than knowledge of Obama’s faith; 60 percent correctly identify him as a member of the Mormon Church, 9 percent say he belongs to another religion and 32 percent do not know his religion.
Despite the fact that some pundits have predicted that Romney’s faith could hurt him among voters, the Pew poll shows that few voters are uncomfortable with it. Among those who know he is a Mormon, 79 percent say they are comfortable with it or that it doesn’t make a difference to them.
“Discomfort with Romney’s Mormonism appears to be of little consequence for the upcoming presidential election. Overwhelming majorities of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who know Romney is Mormon support him, whether they are comfortable with his religion or not,” Pew writes. “Conversely, about nine-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaners intend to vote for Barack Obama, regardless of their view of Romney’s faith.”
Romney has rarely spoken about his faith on the campaign trail, though it has been mentioned in many media reports about the candidate’s background.
The bottom line is that despite all the wacky statistics about Obama and Romney’s religion, concerns about faith are likely to have little effect on how voters decide in November. Discomfort over Obama’s religion seems to be confined to voters who were already going to oppose him and there appears to be little objection to Romney’s faith.
What might matter most to voters is that a candidate display at least some affiliation with a religious faith. Two-thirds of registered voters say it is important for a candidate to have strong religious beliefs.
Certain groups are more likely to say that than others, one of which are Hispanic Catholics. Seventy-nine percent say that a candidate should display strong religious beliefs.