Thursday, June 9, 2011

Obama is Muslim

I've published on the misperception that Barack Obama is Muslim (Journal of Media and Religion, 2010).  While searching the net I came across this paper, much more sophisticated than my own, that attacks the same question using implicit and explicit measures of racism and the statistical magic of structural equation modeling.  I find the following very compelling:
Predispositions such as ideology, partisanship, and even race affect how individuals feel about Obama. This evaluation, in turn, motivates individuals to believe misinformation about the President, which creates implicit associations between Obama and Islam in long-term memory. Finally, these automatic associations increase the likelihood of perceiving and explicitly stating that Obama is likely a Muslim. Interestingly, political sophistication mitigates explicit associations, but it has no effect on implicit ones.
There's a lot to like about this study, the top reason being it cites me, but it's also quite complex in its methodological approach.  Some might quibble with the measure of political sophistication, which to me looks a whole lot like knowledge.  Here's the endnote on this point:

The political sophistication scale (M = 0.57, SD = 0.26; KR20 = 0.70) consisted of correct responses to the following items (correct answers and proportions in parentheses): 1) Responsibility to determine constitutionality of laws (Supreme Court; 74%); 2) Harry Reid’s job (Senate Majority Leader; 28%); 3) majority needed to override presidential veto (2/3; 64%); 4) more conservative party at national level (Republican Party; 92%); 5) current number of Supreme Court justices (9; 49%); 6) Hillary Clinton’s job (Secretary of State; 63%); 7) Constitutional authority to declare war (Legislative branch; 51%); and 8) name of current Supreme Court Chief Justice (John Roberts; 34%).
As you can see above, it's basically a measure of knowledge.  There's some debate, not really touched on in this paper, about how exactly one conceptualizes and measures sophistication.  Knowledge is adequate but, to me, not sufficient -- it fails to capture motivation as well as ability (indeed, a standard surrogate for motivation is political interest, also missing in the model).  Then again, I'm a mass comm guy, so I'd like to see news exposure/attention built into either the sophistication index or as a standalone variable.

But political scientists hate media variables.

When it comes to news, however, they're not above discussing the media even if they're necessarily included in their models.  Near the end of the piece comes this bit:
Many partisans tacitly and sometimes explicitly support misinformation by publicly questioning Obama’s faith, or at a minimum fail to correct those who do not. And since, Islam has been portrayed negatively, particularly since the September 11th attacks, the media share at least some of the blame, as many news outlets linked Muslims with terrorism. Some radio and television commentators were direct in drawing this association, while others were more subtle, inferring such a relationship through coverage omissions or photographic selection of terrorists such as Osama bin Laden (Jackson 2010).
So the media can have an impact.  We're just not going to study it.

Yeah, snarky. I don't mean to sound condescending.  This is an excellent study, methodologically above anything I'd try (then again, I have two brothers-in-law who are world class PhDs in biostatistics who call structural equation modeling little more than smoke and mirrors). It's a great piece of work, saved to my appropriate folder as I wrestle with an Obama-birther study.

And yes, that one includes media variables.  End snark (for the moment).

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