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.

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Jeremy Corbyn's opponents are going down a blind alley on tuition fees

The electoral pool they are fishing in is shallow – perhaps even non-existent. 

The press and Labour’s political opponents are hammering Jeremy Corbyn over his party's pledge/ambition/cruel lie to win an election (delete depending on your preference) to not only abolish tuition fees for new students, but to write off the existing debts of those who have already graduated.

Labour has conceded (or restated, again, depending on your preference) that this is merely an “ambition” – that the party had not pledged to wipe out existing tuition fee debt but merely to scrap fees.

The party’s manifesto and the accompanying costings document only included a commitment to scrap the fees of students already in the system. What the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are claiming as a pledge is the following remark, made by Jeremy Corbyn in his Q&A with NME readers:

“First of all, we want to get rid of student fees altogether. We’ll do it as soon as we get in, and we’ll then introduce legislation to ensure that any student going from the 2017-18 academic year will not pay fees. They will pay them, but we’ll rebate them when we’ve got the legislation through – that’s fundamentally the principle behind it. Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden. I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all of this – but I’m very well aware of that problem. And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.”

Is this a promise, an aspiration or a target? The answer probably depends on how you feel about Jeremy Corbyn or fees policy in general. (My reading, for what it’s worth, is that the full quote looks much more like an objective than a promise to my eyes but that the alternative explanation is fair enough, too.)

The more interesting question is whether or not there is an electoral prize to be had, whether from the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats, for hammering Labour on this topic. On that one the answer is open and shut: there really isn’t one.

Why not? Because the evidence is clear: that pledging to abolish tuition fees largely moves two groups of voters: students who have yet to graduate and actually start paying back the fees, and their parents and grandparents, who are worried about the debt burden.

There is not a large caucus of fee-paying graduates – that is, people who have graduated and are earning enough to start paying back their tuition fees – who are opposed to the system. (We don’t have enough evidence but my expectation is that the parents of people who have already graduated are also less fussed. They can see that their children are not crippled by tuition fee debt, which forms a negligible part of a graduate’s tax and living expenses, as opposed to parents who are expecting a worrying future for their children who have yet to graduate.)

Put simply, there isn’t a large group of people aged 21 or above voting for Corbyn who are that concerned about a debt write-off. Of those that are, they tend to have an ideological stance on the value of a higher education system paid for out of general taxation – a stance that makes it much harder for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats to peel those votes off.

The whole thing is a bit of a blind alley for the parties of the centre and right. The Tory difficulty at this election wasn’t that they did badly among 18-21s, though they did do exceptionally badly. With the exception of the wave year of 1983, they have always tended to do badly with this group. Their problem is that they are doing badly with 30-45s, usually the time in life that some younger Labour voters begin to vote Conservative, largely but not exclusively because they have tended to get on the property ladder.

Nowadays of course, that cohort, particularly in the south of England, is not getting on the property ladder and as a result is not turning blue as it ages. And that’s both a bigger worry and a more lucrative electoral target for Labour’s opponents than litigating an NME interview.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.