Barack Obama’s Religious-Identity Vacuum

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

 

Pew’s new study is fascinating. Not so much that 18 percent of Americans think Barack Obama is Muslim, but that only 34 percent think he is Christian. 

A new national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama’s religion is. The survey was completed in early August, before Obama’s recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center.

The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers. Roughly a third of conservative Republicans (34%) say Obama is a Muslim, as do 30% of those who disapprove of Obama’s job performance. But even among many of his supporters and allies, less than half now say Obama is a Christian. Among Democrats, for instance, 46% say Obama is a Christian, down from 55% in March 2009.

The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans (up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points). But the number of independents who say Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly (up eight points). There has been little change in the number of Democrats who say Obama is a Muslim, but fewer Democrats today say he is a Christian (down nine points since 2009).

When asked how they learned about Obama’s religion in an open-ended question, 60% of those who say Obama is a Muslim cite the media. Among specific media sources, television (at 16%) is mentioned most frequently. About one-in-ten (11%) of those who say Obama is a Muslim say they learned of this through Obama’s own words and behavior.

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