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August 19, 2010

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ISTM one could try to test the White House explanation by looking at the change in the amount of media coverage of this issue. If misinformation campaigns by the president's opponents are the cause, that would imply that
-- substantial media coverage is now reporting that Obama is a Muslim, and
-- the amount of such coverage has increased since early last year

These points are testable, particularly the latter point. Furthermore, one might be able to point to some specific media that has conducted a specific misinformation campaign.

Another way to test whether media are responsible might be to see where the increase took place. ISTM that if media are increasingly reporting that Obama is a Muslim, it must be far right-wing media who are spreading this myth. In that case, the increase in myth-believers should be mostly among conservatives. However, the increase amoung independents is almost as great as among Republicans

Republican believers went from 17% to 31%.
Independent believers went from 10% to 18%.
Democratic believers went from 7% to 10%.

In terms of percentage points, the Republican growth was +14%, Independent growth was +8%, and Dem growth was 3%. However, in terms of percent of the prior base, the two growths were almost identical: +82% among Repulicans and +80% among independents. Even Democratic belief in the myth had a 43% increase.

To me, these figures suggest that Obama's decreasing popularity is more likely the cause of the increasing belief in the myth.

It could be that what is actually increasing is racial resentment, and this is the socially acceptable way of expressing it. My paper on this (http://ussc.edu.au/s/media/docs/publications/1005_Smith_Obama.pdf) found that implicit racial attitudes definitely play a role, though they are not as important as simple lack of knowledge and partisanship. But that could be where the marginal increases are.

David Smith, I cannot open your link. I get an error message saying
The URI you submitted has disallowed characters.

While it’s true that that the percent of people who believe Obama is a Muslim rose over from 12% to 18%, the first thing that I noticed in the graph is the increase in “don’t know”, which increased and absolute 11% from 32% to 43%.

The first explanation cited above - "misinformation campaigns" - strikes me as partisan griping. Has there really significant media coverage saying “Obama is a Muslim”? Other than a few you and others have documented that might arguably be construed as “implying” this, I am not aware of any solid examples.

Also, no problem with you citing your research, but the issue here seems to be how the perception keeps growing, not the problem with “correcting" i.e reversing the perceptions”.

Why do the media focus on this particular myth?

We know now that 64% of Americans don't know what President's religion is. So what? That ignorance won't affect governmental policies related to unemployment, medical care, economic growth, budget deficits, taxes, excessive government benefits, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iranian nuclerization, the Israel/Arab dispute, etc. No doubt there is a just as much ignorance in many important policy areas. Ye we focus on the amount of ignorance of Obama's religion, pretty much to the exclusion of other truly important areas of public ignorance.

One explanation offered is that polls and media focus on this particular myth because they have a liberal bias and this myth is more widely held among conservatives. I don't know if that's correct, but it's as good an explanation as any.

If Obama were seriously concerned about the perception he's not Christian, he might have joined a church in the District of Columbia and/or attended services more frequently. That he hasn't suggests either he's very stubborn about maintaining his personal space or he doesn't care a lot about the perception. The same thing could be said about his unwillingness to release a copy of the contemporaneous version of his birth certificate, from which the information on his certificate of live birth was derived. The same thing could be said about his willingness to let his wife and daughter vacation at an ultra-posh resort in Spain.

And if the answer is that Obama doesn't care that much about the public's perceptions of him, might that be a hint that Obama has decided he won't run again in 2012?

An Instpundit commenter explains the poll results:

My hypothesis on the increasing view that Obama is muslim:

Surely some of those polled are against Obama and would respond in a way that would publicly tweak Obama, even though they know in their heart of hearts that he probably isn’t muslim. This polling behavior is , effectively, tit-for-tat, as Obama frequently does the same to his opponents, in the form of references to “tea baggers” and on-the-sly displays of his middle finger. Well, this is one way we’re publicly but surreptitiously giving him the middle finger back.

I think there are a number of points which question Obama's Christianity.

* He's criticized the Bible, with statements about, if you really read the Bible, then slavery is OK and eating shellfish is an abomination - which are the same worn-out statements only those ignorant of the Bible would actual cite.

* Why did it take a year before the Obama family started regularly attending church?

* He was the first President to NOT recognize the National Day of Prayer in a manner consistent with other Presidents.

* He shows no defence for Christianity yet he has a strong outreach to Muslims, stating "I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear." (hey, there are plenty of negative stereotypes of Christians - but the culture says Christian bashing is perfectly fine)

* He's got his NASA administrator making Islamic outreach a high priority at NASA.

* Even in a 2004 interview Obama doesn't not sound like someone who grasps the Christian faith or Christian walk, such as:

- Obama defines how he will enter into heaven as "if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded"

- Obama defines sin as "Being out of alignment with my values"

- And, for Obama, sinning is "if I'm true to myself that that is its own reward, when I'm not true to it, it's its own punishment."

http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/386118.aspx

* and you can keep adding to the list, where Obama contradicts Christian teachings and he shows favoritism toward Islam.

N Waff - While I don't agree that all of these are valid criticisms (I watched the video of his "criticism" of the bible and didn't think it amounted to much), I take your point. It's possible that if people hear about two or three examples, whether thay are valid or not, it raises uncertainty enough that they might be more liable to answer either "don't know" or "not Christian".

"He was the first President to NOT recognize the National Day of Prayer in a manner consistent with other Presidents."

Why would this be a "point" in "questioning Obama's Christianity?" It's called the National Day of Prayer, not the National Day of Christian Prayer.

Entertaining discussion of the myth here.

Rush Limbaugh said Obama was the first Muslim President in the sense that Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton the "first black President" - meaning that Obama is not Islamic, but shares some characteristics typical of Muslims.

An honest columnist could have pointed out that a joke like this spreads the myth. Some listeners will misunderstand Limbaugh's point and think he is seriously asserting that Obama is Islamic.

However, Maureen Dowd is the eponymous quoter out of context. She dowdified Limbaugh's comment to make it appear that he had seriously claimed that Obama was Islamic. Ironically, her misreporting helps spread the myth; some who read or hear about her column will believe that what Limbaugh allegedly said might be correct.

Evidently Dowd doesn't mind spreading this myth. For her, it's a useful tool to attack Rush Limbaugh. I think that's not atypical. Liberals like to get excited about this particular myth because it's a cudgel to use against conservatives.

Brendan, is it possible that some people who answer "don't know" really could care less either way?

If the President were a Muslim, he would be exrcising his constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom just as much as if he we were a Christian, a Shintoist or, for that matter, an atheist.

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