August 19, 2010

Growing Number of Americans Say Obama is a Muslim

Section 1: Obama and Religion

Obama’s Religious Beliefs

The share of Americans who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim – which held steady at between 11% and 12% from early 2008 through early 2009 – has jumped to 18%. There also has been a steep decline in the number of people who identify Obama as a Christian – 34% today, down from 48% in March 2009 and 51% in October 2008. A plurality (43%) now say they do not know what Obama’s religion is, up from 34% in 2009.

The view that Obama is a Muslim is highest among his political opponents (31% of Republicans and 30% of those who disapprove of his job performance express this view). It is lower among his supporters (10% among both Democrats and those who approve of his job performance). The share of Republicans who say Obama is a Muslim has nearly doubled over the past year and a half – from 17% to 31%.

Currently, about as many Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim (31%) as believe he is a Christian (27%); a plurality of Republicans (39%) say they do not know Obama’s religion. In March 2009, far more Republicans said Obama was a Christian (47%) than a Muslim (17%).

The impression that Obama is a Muslim is also more widespread today among independents – 18% say this today, up from 10% in 2009. There has been virtually no change in the share of Democrats who say Obama is a Muslim (10% today, 7% in 2009). But even among Democrats, fewer than half (46%) now identify his religion as Christian, down from 55% last year.

There is also a wide racial divide in the perception that Obama is a Muslim. The number of whites who believe this rose from 11% to 21% since March 2009, while there has been virtually no change in blacks’ views on this question (7% say Obama is Muslim today, compared with 6% in 2009). But both blacks and whites are less likely today to say Obama is a Christian.

Among religious groups, a higher proportion of white evangelical Protestants say Obama is a Muslim than any other religious group surveyed; 29% hold this view today, up from 20% in 2009. But the share of people saying Obama is a Muslim has increased across all religious groups. Indeed, both white mainline Protestants and white Catholics are roughly twice as likely today as in 2009 to say the president is a Muslim. And significantly fewer people in nearly all religious groups say Obama is a Christian than did so in 2009.

Obama, Bush and Religion

Obama is perceived as being much less reliant on his faith than was George W. Bush; a plurality (43%) says Obama is not very reliant on his religious beliefs in making policy decisions, compared with just 28% who said that about Bush in 2004.

While Obama is seen as less reliant on his religious beliefs than Bush, the public expresses roughly similar levels of satisfaction with Obama’s approach to religion as compared with his predecessor. Nearly half (48%) say Obama relies on his religious beliefs about the right amount when making policy decisions, and 53% say that Obama mentions his faith and prayer about the right amount. Roughly similar numbers said the same thing when asked in 2006 about Bush’s mentions of faith and prayer and in 2004 when asked about Bush’s reliance on religion in making policy decisions.

Substantial majorities of Democrats say Obama mentions his faith about the right amount (69%) and that he relies on it the right amount when making policy decisions (67%). This compares with just 34% of Republicans who say he mentions his faith the right amount and 26% who say he relies on his religious beliefs the right amount when making policy decisions. And higher proportions of white evangelical Protestants than other religious groups say Obama mentions his faith and prayer too little and relies on his beliefs too little when making policy.
In addition, views of Obama’s approach to religion are linked with perceptions of his own religious beliefs. Only about three-in-ten of those who think Obama is a Muslim say he mentions his faith the right amount (30%) and relies on his beliefs the right amount when making policy decisions (31%).

By comparison, large majorities of those who say he is a Christian say he mentions his faith the right amount and relies on his beliefs when making policy decisions the right amount (68%, 66% respectively).

The survey also finds some discomfort with the idea that Obama relies a great deal on his faith when making policy decisions, especially compared with Bush in 2004. Among those who say that Obama relies on his religion a great deal when making policy decisions, 50% say he relies on his beliefs the right amount while 39% say that Obama relies on his faith too much.

In 2004, by contrast, the balance of opinion was much more positive for Bush; 63% of those who said he relied on his beliefs when making policy said this was appropriate while 27% said he relied on his beliefs too much.