Almost one in five Americans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, according to a new poll, despite his public statements about his Christian faith. The survey by the Pew Research Centre found that 18 per cent now say the US President is a Muslim, up from 11 per cent in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34 per cent) say Mr Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48 per cent in 2009. Forty three per cent say they do not know Mr Obama’s religion.
The survey was completed early this month, before Mr Obama’s recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the former site of the World Trade Centre, which have landed him in political hot water.
The President has said he believes Muslims have the right to build an Islamic centre there, but refrained from taking a position on whether or not it should actually be built two blocks from Ground Zero.
The issue has become politically charged ahead of congressional races in mid-November, with Republicans accusing Mr Obama of being out touch with mainstream America.
The Pew Research Centre noted that the belief that Mr Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans, (up 14 points) since 2009, especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points).
But the number of independents who say Mr Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly (up eight points).
There has been little change in the number of Democrats who say Mr Obama is a Muslim, but fewer Democrats today say he is a Christian.
The White House is concerned that beliefs about Mr Obama’s religion are linked to political judgments about him. Those who say he is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance, while a majority of those who think he is a Christian approve of the job Mr Obama is doing. Those who are unsure about Mr Obama’s religion are about evenly divided in their views of his performance.
The White House blamed “misinformation campaigns” by the President’s opponents.
“While the President has been diligent and personally committed to his own Christian faith, there’s certainly folks who are intent on spreading falsehoods about the President and his values and beliefs,” Mr Obama’s faith adviser, Joshua DuBois, told The Washington Post.
Pew analysts attribute the findings to attacks by his opponents and Mr Obama’s limited attendance at religious services, particularly in contrast with presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton.
Andrew Kohut, the Pew Research Centre’s director, said the confusion partly reflected “the intensification of negative views about Mr Obama among his critics”.
Alan Cooperman, the Pew Forum’s associate director for research, said that with the public hearing little about Mr Obama’s religion, “maybe there’s more possibility for other people to make suggestions that the President is this or he’s really that or he’s really a Muslim”.