-Before we begin this discussion, it ’s helpful to remember that during the course of his campaign for the Presidency candidate Obama received praise in the media for how easily he talked about his religious faith—since 2004 conventional wisdom was that this was something that Democrats struggled with -In a survey we conducted in the fall of 2008 we found that the public viewed Obama ’s handling of religion relatively positively compared to his opponent and to the Democratic Party. -Nearly half the public said that Obama was generally friendly to religion compared 45% who said this about John McCain, and only 38% who believed the Democratic Party was friendly to religion -
-In 2010, Pew ’s annual religion and politics survey found that roughly one-third of the public believed Obama was Christian, about 1-in-5 thought he was Muslim and a plurality 45% said they did not know the President’s religion -These numbers represent a significant change since 2009 the last time Pew asked this question.
-There were significant differences between religious groups about Obama ’s faith. -Nearly 3-in-10 white evangelicals report that Obama is Muslim, only 27% say he is Christian -White Catholics and white mainline Protestants closely mirror the general population -Among the unaffiliated significantly fewer believe Obama is Muslim at 13% and only 5% of Black Protestants believe Obama is Muslim -Interestingly, though only 43% of black Protestants say Obama is Christian, nearly half report that they do not know what his faith is
-The political divisions on this question are stark as one might expect -Republican are three times as likely as Democrats to believe Obama is Muslim and twenty points less likely to believe he is Christian -Independents closely mirror the general public.
During the campaign and for at least the first six months of his presidency views about Obama ’s faith were stable. Nearly half of the public reported correctly that he was Christian, 1-in-10 Americans said he was Muslim, and roughly 4-in-10 said they did not know. -In 2010 these numbers shifted significantly. The percent who believe Obama is Muslim increased from 11% to 18%, an increase of 7 points. This shift received the bulk of the media coverage, however, what is equally fascinating is the drop in those who said he was Christian, from a slim majority shortly before the election to just about one-third in the summer of last year, a 17 point drop. This raises atwo questions: Why did this happen and What does this mean for Obama and his presidency?
-If we look at the pattern of personal favorability of Obama we see that it closely tracks views of his religion, in this case whether or not he is Christian In March 56% had a favorable view of candidate Obama and 47% believed he was Christian -Right before the election, his favorable increased significantly to 66% and the percent who said he was Christian also increased although by a less substantial margin -In 2010, both Obama ’s personal favorability and the perception that he is Christian dropped dramatically, a 20 point drop in favorability was accompanied by a 14-point drop in perceptions that he is Christian -Ideally it would be great if we had a few more data points, but these data nonetheless suggest a relationship between being viewing Obama as a Christian and having a favorable impression of him
-Here we see the relationship between perceptions of his faith and views about his job performance. Interestingly, believing Obama is Christian seems to be as strongly associated with negative evaluations of his job performance as viewing him as Christian is to positive evaluations. 62% of those who believe Obama is Christian approve of the job he is doing as President while 67% of those who say he is Muslim disapprove.
-Being viewed as Christian is important even among non-Christians. The approval gap among Christians is 34 points, between those who say he is Muslim and those who say he is Christian is 34 points. Among Non-Christians the gap is equally as large at 35 points.
-In order to control for possible confounding factors like party affiliation, ideology and religious identity and behavior I ran a multivariate model predicting disapproval of Obama ’s job as President -Taking account of basic demographic and political covariates this analysis shows that viewing Obama as Muslim and viewing him as Christian are both predictive of views about his job performance. And in fact
-Here I converted the betas into predicted probabilities and averaged the scores by each category. Americans who believe Obama is a Muslim have a 72% probability of disapproving of his job performance. Americans who believe he is Christian have a 30% chance of disapproving. -From a purely political standpoint the large drop in the number of Americans who view him as Christian matters more than the modest increase in those who view him as Muslim
-In our 2010 post-election survey we asked respondents to gauge how different or similar Obama ’s religious beliefs were to their own. -We found that a slim majority of Americans said Obama ’s religious beliefs were very or somewhat different than their own, and about 4-in-10 said that they were very or somewhat similar. -More than one-third of Americans said Obama ’s religious beliefs were very different.
-There are sizable gaps on this question by religious and political affiliation. Three-quarters of black Protestants say that Obama ’s religious beliefs are similar and less than 1-in-10 say they are different. Similar numbers of white Catholics and white mainline Protestants say Obama’s religious beliefs are different. -And two-third of white evangelicals report that Obama ’s religious beliefs are different including half who say they are very different
-We see a similarly large differences by party ID. Nearly 7-in-10 Democrats say Obama ’s religious beliefs are similar and nearly 8-in-10 Republicans say they are different. -Among Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement three quarters say Obama ’s religious beliefs are different including two-thirds who say they are very different
-We also saw significant differences by trusted media source -Americans who most trust public television and the broadcast networks for their news and information closely resemble the general public. -Viewers who most trust CNN are somewhat more likely to say Obama has similar religious beliefs to their own -Fox viewers really stand out here. Neatly 8-in-10 Americans who say that Fox News is their most trusted news source say Obama ’s religious beliefs are different from their own including 60% who say they are very different
-We see this same effect among Republicans, suggesting that this effect is not simply an artifact of partisan differences on trusted news sources. -Among Republicans who say they trust Fox news most 69% say Obama ’s religious beliefs are very different. Among Republicans who trust other sources, only 45% say Obama’s religious beliefs are very different
-Not surprisingly we found a significant correlation between views about Obama ’s religious beliefs and his personal favorability, but this varied significantly among certain religious groups -The correlations were very strong among white mainline Protestants at .75, white evangelicals at .72 and white Catholics at .65 -Among the unaffiliated and non-Christians the correlations are much weaker and among black Protestants the correlation is not significant either substantively or statistically
-Again, in order to control for possible confounding factors I ran a multivariate logistic regression model predicting an unfavorable view of Obama. -The results show that viewing Obama ’s religious beliefs as different from your own is the strongest predictor of having an unfavorable view of him, followed closely by trusting Fox News and Democratic party affiliation
-As we saw earlier though there are significant variations among religious subgroups. -Here I ran the same model among five different religious attendance groups, from the most frequently attending to the least. The coefficients in the chart are the mean predicted probabilities for each religious attendance category. -Americans who attend more than once a week and who say Obama ’s religious beliefs are different, have an 81% probability of viewing him unfavorably. -Among Americans who seldom attend and who say Obama ’s religious beliefs are different have a 59% probability of viewing him favorable -And among those who never attend and say his religious beliefs are different have just a 36% probability of having an unfavorable view of Obama
-The same basic pattern is evident when using religious salience groups, from those who say religion is the most important thing in their life to those who say it is not too or not at all important.
Faith in the President?: How Public Perception of Barack Obama’s Faith Shape Views of Him and his Presidency Daniel Cox, Public Religion Research Institute Rob Suls, Pew Research Center American Association of Public Opinion Research May 12-15, 2011www.publicreligion.org www.pewresearch.org
Perceptions about PresidentObama’s Faith & its Relationship to his Favorability & Job Approval PART I. PERCEPTION OF OBAMA’S RELIGIOUS IDENTITY PART II. VIEWS ABOUT OBAMA’S RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
Data Sources Public Religion Research Institute, Post-election American Values Survey, November 2010. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Religion & Politics Survey, August 2010. Public Religion Research Institute, American Values Survey, September 2008. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Religion & Politics Survey, August 2008.
Two Measures of Obama’s Faith Obama’s Religious Identity (Pew): Now, thinking about Barack Obama’s religious beliefs… do you happen to know what Barack Obama’s religion is? Is he Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, or something else? Obama’s Religious Beliefs (PRRI): From what you know, do you think Barack Obama has religious beliefs that are very similar, somewhat similar, somewhat different or very different than your own religious beliefs?
Relationship between Views of Obama’s Religious Beliefs and Personal Favorability
Predicting Obama’s Favorability Logistic Regression Predicting Unfavorable View of President Obama B S.E. Sig. Odds RatioObamas Religious Beliefs Different 2.242 0.181 0.000 9.4Fox News Most Trusted Network (Ref. All Others) 2.021 0.236 0.000 7.5Republican (Ref. Independent) 0.861 0.211 0.000 2.4Male (Ref. Women) 0.498 0.168 0.003 1.6Conservative (Ref. Moderates) 0.457 0.191 0.017 1.6Evangelical (Ref. All Others) 0.071 0.198 0.719 1.1Age (Linear) 0.013 0.005 0.007 1.01Educational Attainment (Linear) 0.0001 0.052 0.998 1.00Religious Attendance (Linear) -0.18 0.056 0.001 0.84Liberal (Ref. Moderate) -0.897 0.267 0.001 0.41Black (Ref. All Others) -1.454 0.467 0.002 0.23Democrat (Ref. Independents) -1.587 0.223 0.000 0.21Intercept -2.164 .488 0.000 0.16
Views of Obama’s Religious Beliefs More Important Predicting Favorability Among Highly Religious
Views of Obama’s Religious Beliefs More Important Predicting favorability Among Highly Religious
Conclusions A Word on Causality None of the analysis here addresses the direction of the relationship between perception of Obama’s religion and his political and personal evaluations It is likely that favorability is affecting views about Obama’s religion just as views about his religion are affecting his favorability Need for panel data Differential Effects The analysis shows that Obama’s religious beliefs matter more for some Americans and less for others, (i.e. white mainline Protestants, white evangelicals, frequent attenders)
Conclusions Christian vs. Muslim Identity Being viewed as a Christian has nearly as large a positive impact as being viewed as Muslim has a negative impact These effects are true even among Non-Christians
For more information about these surveys: http://people-press.org/2010/08/19/growing-number-of-americans-say-obama-is-a http://www.publicreligion.org/research/published/?id=428www.publicreligion.org www.pewresearch.org