6 Lessons of Rising Belief That Obama Is Muslim

Nearly one in five Americans think their Christian president is Muslim

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President Barack Obama is an American-born, life-long Christian, but according to a new poll by Pew, 18 percent of Americans believe that he is Muslim, an all-time high since the false rumors first spread in 2007 during the presidential campaign. Only 34 percent correctly identified his religion as Christianity, while 43 percent said they don't know. What lessons can we learn about America from this poll?

  • Islamophobia Spreading in America  Politico's Ben Smith says this reveals "more about many Americans' hostility toward Islam than it does about the rising hostility to Obama on the right. ... telling a pollster that Obama is a Muslim is just another way of expressing disapproval. ... What's eye-opening, perhaps, is that 'Muslim' is a term of abuse for so many Americans."
  • For Many, Islam Has Become 'Anti-American'  Slate's David Weigel writes, "Maybe before the Great Mosque Freak-Out of 2010 this would have been more surprising, this idea that 'Muslim' is synonymous with 'un-American' or 'anti-American.' But for three weeks we've been asked to admire the resilience and bravery of the family members of 9/11 victims who believe that the existence of a Muslim worship center defiles the area near Ground Zero. It's acceptable, respectable to argue that this religion, not just the radical perversions of it, is a threat to America. So it becomes a way of describing what's wrong with Barack Obama."
  • Increasingly Angry Opponents 'Receptive' to Falsehoods  Brendan Nyhan explains, "As Pew notes, '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).' If we compare these results with those from March 2009, it's clear that Republican beliefs about Obama's religion have dramatically shifted. ... As Republicans and independents view Obama more unfavorably, they're likely to be more receptive to negative information about him, including false claims about his religion." This implies that being Muslim is viewed as "negative information."
  • Misinformation in the Media The Washington Post's Jon Cohen and Michael Shear write, "White House officials expressed dismay over the poll results. Faith adviser Joshua DuBois blamed 'misinformation campaigns' by the president's opponents. ... Among those who say Obama is a Muslim, 60 percent say they learned about his religion from the media, suggesting that their opinions are fueled by misinformation."
  • Bad News for Legitimate Conservative Opposition Conservative blogger Jason Kuznicki worries, "I disagree with the president on a long, long list of policies and decisions ... But every column-inch devoted to this idiot conspiracy theory forestalls meaningful debate by just that much. Which means we don't get the political opposition we deserve, Obama's policies don't get the scrutiny they so desperately cry out for, and Obama becomes all the more effective at doing just the things that I wish we could prevent."
  • 'Otherness' Plagues Obama The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg gets literary. "The findings suggest that, nearly two years into Mr. Obama's presidency, the White House is struggling with the perception of 'otherness' that Candidate Obama sought so hard to overcome -- in part because of an aggressive misinformation campaign by critics and in part, some Democratic allies say, because Mr. Obama is doing a poor job of communicating who he is and what he believes."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.