One in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim

New polling data shows that misconceptions about Obama’s faith have increased since he took office.

A growing number of Americans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre shows. The proportion of people accurately identifying him as a Christian has also declined since his inauguration as president.

The statistics get more worrying when you delve a little deeper: 67 per cent of those who identified Obama as Muslim disapprove of his job performance, compared to a 29 per cent disapproval rating from those who think he is Christian. As Obama's approval ratings continue to founder, it seems that perceptions of his political performance are increasingly being linked to assumptions about his religious identity. However, his policy decisions are considered to be less influenced by religion than those of his predecessor.

Nearly one in five Americans now identifies Obama as a Muslim, up from 11 per cent in March 2009. The increase in this perception is particularly marked among Republicans (up 14 per cent in the same period) and conservative Republicans (up 16 per cent).

Crucially, this poll was conducted in early August, before the president's intervention in the Ground Zero mosque controversy, which has provoked a wealth of anti-Muslim dissent from some quarters. The Pew findings are echoed in a recent Time magazine poll, in which 24 per cent of those surveyed said they believe Obama is a Muslim. Almost a third said that Muslims should be barred from running for president at all.

Internet conspiracies surround Obama's birth and religion have been around since well before the 2008 election, but the notion that Obama was a Muslim received more attention after a supporter of his Republican opponent John McCain repeatedly referred to him as "Barack Hussein Obama".

As to where this perception is coming from, Joshua DuBois, the White House adviser on faith, has blamed "misinformation campaigns" by political opponents. Yet the survey tells a slightly different story. About 60 per cent of those who identified Obama as Muslim said their source was the media, but one in ten cited "Obama's own words and behaviour".

Considering the man is very forthcoming about his faith, and that the news wires regularly run reports about him attending Baptist services, it is hard to pin this entirely on the media. Given the swell of anti-Muslim sentiment across the US as the Ground Zero controversy intensifies, the misconception isn't going to be corrected any time soon.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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