February 23, 2015

BYRON YORK: Why Are Americans Confused About Obama’s Religion?

But when it comes to confusion, or wrong information, about Obama’s religion, Scott Walker is far from alone. Polls have long shown many Americans know little about the president’s faith.

In June, 2012, Gallup asked, “Do you happen to know the religious faith of Barack Obama?” Forty-four percent said they did not know, while 36 percent said he is a Christian, 11 percent said he is a Muslim, and eight percent said he has no religion. The “don’t know” group included 36 percent of Democrats. (A larger number of Republicans, 47 percent, said they didn’t know Obama’s religion, as did 46 percent of independents.)

In August, 2010, a Pew poll made news when it found that 18 percent of those surveyed believed Obama is a Muslim. But just as notably, 43 percent of respondents in that survey told Pew they didn’t know Obama’s religion. Among those who said they didn’t know were 41 percent of Democrats.

One notable suggestion in the Pew survey was that in Obama’s first couple of years in office, as Americans became more familiar with him as president, they became less sure of his religious faith. In March 2009, shortly after Obama entered the White House, 34 percent said they did not know his religion, while 48 percent identified him as a Christian. By August 2010, the number of Americans who said they did not know Obama’s religion had grown to 43 percent, while the number who identified him as Christian fell to 34 percent. The trend was true not just of the president’s political opponents but of his supporters as well. “Even among Democrats, fewer than half (46 percent) now identify his religion as Christian, down from 55 percent last year,” Pew wrote in 2010.

In June 2012, Pew asked the question again and found that 36 percent — still more than one-third of Americans — did not know Obama’s faith, while 45 percent identified him as a Christian. (The poll, taken during the 2012 presidential campaign, found that more people — 51 percent — correctly identified Mitt Romney as a Mormon than the 45 percent who said Obama is a Christian.)

The polls are anywhere from two to four years old. There hasn’t been much research on the topic recently, so it’s possible views have changed in one direction or the other.

Whenever the issue pops up, Obama’s most ardent supporters are quick to blame conservative media for misperceptions about Obama’s religion. But it’s possible something in Obama’s public presentation of himself has also created confusion among a significant number of Americans about his religion. The fact is, Obama’s religious roots and development have always been a complicated story.

As with everything about him, there’s no there there, just a series of convenient projections on fog, like the monster in a Scooby Doo episode.