Some urban myths refuse to die. A new Pew Center report confirms that the persistent rumor that Barack Obama is really Muslim, it's still out there, alive and well. Twelve percent believed him to be Muslim in October 2008, about 11 percent still think so. Among Republicans, 17 percent thought so in October and it's unchanged -- 17 percent in March 2009.
What's up with these people?
First, there's nothing wrong with being Muslim. It's like the old Seinfeld skit where a girl thinks Jerry and George are gay. We're not! they proclaim. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
Who clings to this misperception, and why? Oh my, this gets into some research I recently submitted to a journal, so I'm going to skate around this a bit. Lemme just say that based on a panel study from September to October, the folks who clung to this myth tended to be Republicans and Christian conservatives. Those who knew better than believe him to be Muslim were black, or better educated, or more politically interested. Watching or reading the news did little to moderate this misperception, which goes to show you the limits of the news media in correcting a misperception that fits all your predispositions.
It's messy stuff, but the Pew results support this as well. Among evangelicals, 19 percent believed Obama to be Muslim. That's higher than any subgroup, and damned telling.
Questions about a candidate's (or politician's religion) is not something we often ask. Joe Lieberman being a Jew was a major story in 2000. Many people misidentified George W. Bush's religious affiliation (he's Methodist, not Baptist). Being religious makes you a little better at correctly identifying a candidate's religious affiliation, but not a lot, in part because religiosity is mostly unrelated to political knowledge or even negative.
Christian conservatives want to believe Obama is something other than Christian. Along comes this urban myth, and there ya go -- misperception.