Here's How Obama's Approval Ratings Break Down by Religion

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The president's shaky approval ratings have been a thing this midterm season. Providing a bit more insight into where those numbers come from, Gallup published a Friday poll looking at President Obama's approval ratings by religion. And for many Americans, one takeaway was immediately noticeable: by a large percentage, Obama's strongest support comes from the U.S.'s Muslim population, at 72 percent approval. And he fares the weakest among Mormons: just 18 percent approve of the President. 

Some alignments of Americans found this news to be disturbing, judging by this early reaction from Drudge: 


Looking at the full results, taken from an aggregation of six months of Gallup approval polls, the President's approval ratings are strongest among non-Christians, with majority support from Muslim voters, "Other non-Christian" voters, Jewish voters, and those identifying as atheist or with no religion. Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons disapproved of the President's job in majorities: 

Source: Gallup

It's important to note a few things, however. First, America's Muslim population is not very large. Same goes for the country's Jewish population. And although the poll does not define what it means by "Other non-Christian," given the inclusion of atheists as a second category we can make an educated guess that "other" refers to even smaller minority religion populations. So Drudge's panic about who might be driving the President's approval ratings is, shockingly, a little overblown: As of 2010, Muslims accounted for about 1.7 percent of the U.S. population. A few million people. A high approval rating among Muslims is hardly responsible for the President's 43 percent job approval rating among all Americans, who number at more than 300 million. 

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And, as Gallup notes, the President's approval ratings by religion have tracked proportionally since the beginning of his presidency: he's always had a high approval rating among Muslims — who tend to vote for Democrats, and a slightly higher than average approval rating among Catholics. Mormons, who vote largely for conservative candidates, have always disapproved of his job as President. Gallup makes a good cautionary point here on what this says about reading too much into the poll: "Americans of various faiths seem to react similarly to the factors that cause the president's popularity to wax and wane, rather than reacting in idiosyncratic ways tied to their religious beliefs." In other words, Muslims don't approve of the president because, as some believe, he is a secret Muslim. They are voting for him because he is a Democrat. 

Since the vast majority of Americans are Christians, the Gallup poll is missing an important breakdown of America's religious population in its results: all of America's non-Catholic, non-Mormon Christians are all lumped in together in these numbers, despite their politically and demographically diverse realities. A solid majority of Americans are non-Catholic Christians, a category that is usually broken down, as Pew does, into members different congregations: "mainline," "evangelical," and "historically black." Each group tends to have distinct political affiliations. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.