The number of Americans who believe —wrongly — that President Obama is a Muslim has increased significantly since his inauguration and now account for nearly 20 per cent of the nation's population.
Those results, from a new Pew Research Center survey, were drawn from interviews done before the president's comments about the construction of an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, and they suggest that there could be serious political danger for the White House as the debate continues.
The president's religion, like his place of birth, has been the subject of Internet-spread rumors and falsehoods since before he began his presidential campaign, and the poll indicates that those rumors have strengthened since. The number of people who now correctly identify Obama as a Christian has dropped to 34 per cent, down from nearly half when he took office.
White House officials expressed dismay over the poll results. Faith adviser Joshua DuBois 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," DuBois said.
Among those who say Obama is a Muslim, 60 per cent say they learned about his religion from the media, suggesting that their opinions are fueled by misinformation.
But the shifting attitudes about the president's religion could also be the result of a public growing less enamored of him and increasingly attracted to labels they perceive as negative. In the Pew poll, 41 per cent disapprove of Obama's job performance, compared with 26 per cent disapproval in its March 2009 poll.
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