Friday, July 18, 2008

What Religion is that Guy?

The folks at the Pew Center asked in a recent survey a simple question: Do you happen to know what Barack Obama's religion is?

Good timing, given The New Yorker magazine cover (see below). So how'd we do? As if you had to ask.

Despite recurrent media attention to the issue -- including extensive coverage of his association with the controversial Protestant cleric, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- the incorrect perception that the Democratic presidential candidate adheres to the Muslim faith or to another non-Christian faith has remained remarkably constant over the course of the 2008 election campaign.

Twelve percent of respondents say Obama's a Muslim, despite that fact he's not -- he's Christian. One percent have his as Jewish, which is kinda interesting and strange and not altogether understandable. But hey, what the heck. Some 25 percent don't know and 3 percent refused to answer. Of the "don't know" types, 10 percent said they've heard lots of different things. That's the Muslim whisper effect, hidden in the data, and is interesting as well.

I published a piece some time back that looked as the ability to identify the religions of four candidates (Gore and Lieberman, Bush and Cheney). Those who shared a religion with that person were more accurate. Everyone could identify Lieberman's religion, very vew could correctly place Cheney. And lots of Baptists said Bush was Baptist when, instead, he's Methodist (though a flavor that looks awfully like Southern Baptist, so understandable).

Overall, this fuzzy sense of Obama's religion may play a role later. You can be sure it'll come up as a question in the debates, which I'm sure he'll welcome, but I doubt his answer, no matter how sincere, will solve nothing. He'll do the "I'm not a Muslim, not that there's anything wrong with that!" approach that serves him well among some, but does nothing with a few crazies out there.


John Arkwright said...

In 1992, I saw a large group of Americans in favor of giving ourselves the gift of free health care. Many seemed to think this was possible. I could not figure out how they could fall for it.

Then I dug deeply into a WSJ/NBC poll and found that a large proportion of those surveyed on the issues also gave answers like, "I will depend on social security for most or all of my retirement income."

That's when I understood. They're stupid! A great many Americans are so stupid that they think we can give ourselves a gift that we do not have to pay for. "Hey, tax my employer to pay for my health care! He can afford it!" (That was the plan at the time).

I thought that each poll should include a control question like this one.

One billion tax dollars are unexpectedly paid to the U. S. Government. What share should the average state receive?
a) 2% b) 5% c) 10% d) 50%.

Every time a response to any question on the poll was quoted in the news, they should quote the "control" results as well.

So, yeah, a significant proportion of the public can see Reverend Wright and still believe Obama is Muslim. A significant proportion of the public is stupid.

I am not afraid of insulting anyone who reads this blog. They're literate. I'm not talking to them.

Hollander said...

Heh heh, well, you get two schools of thought on this. One is that the public is largely dumb or indifferent. A Downsian rational model approach says why bother keeping up, one person can't accomplish much, so you're illogical for keeping up and voting. Key and Graber and others also took the approach that people are smarter than we think, just about stuff that matters to them.

Most argue the opposite. Call 'em the Lipmannians. The public ain't that smart, ain't likely to ever be that smart, and in some ways we're better off if they just sit on the sidelines and not hurt anyone.

Hypothetical survey questions are fun to ask, but yeah, they don't mean a heckova lot. There's a big debate right now on a listserv of polling people about using fake names for drugs and such in a survey. I should blog about it, but we often ask fake things to see if people answer when they can't possibly know anything.

And don't worry about insulting any readers of this blog. I see the Google Analytics numbers and even if you are insulting, not so many are seeing it.