According to a new Pew poll, 18 percent of Americans now say President Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009. Only a third (34 percent) correctly identify him as a Christian, and 43 percent say they don't know what his religion is. Pundits are at a loss to explain exactly why Americans are increasingly confused about Obama's faith, which has been the subject of fringe conspiracy theories since the earliest days of his candidacy. The White House released a statement affirming Obama's "strong Christian faith," but added that he "doesn't wear it on his sleeve." What does the mass misconception about Obama's faith mean? (Watch a Fox News discussion about the poll)
It means the right wing smear campaign is working: Sixty percent of those who believe Obama is a Muslim say they heard it from the media, says liberal watchdog Media Matters. And with the right wing media "relentlessly" pushing this myth, are we really surprised?
"Behind Obama Muslim myth stands the right wing"
It means Obama hasn't done enough to shut this rumor down: Obama has made no secret that he has Muslim roots on his father's side, says Byron York at the Washington Examiner, yet refuses to have a "measured discussion" about them. Given that he "sometimes doesn't appear to practice any faith at all," is it any wonder the misconception has grown in people's minds?
"Obama has himself to blame for Muslim problem"
Perhaps Obama ought to emphasize his Christian faith more often: The biggest electoral issue in this poll is not the Muslim misconception, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post, but how many people don't know what religion the president follows. Americans "like to believe that their president is a man of faith." Religion can be a way to connect to voters, and Obama hasn't done enough to foster that link.
"Confusion grows about Obama's religion"
This type of misconception is nothing new: People claimed that Abraham Lincoln was a Catholic, and that FDR was a Jew, says Bruce Feiler at Fox News. In a country in which national character has traditionally been bound to a Christian God, charging our political opponents with a different faith "is as American as apple pie."
"Obama a Muslim! Lincoln a Catholic! FDR a Jew! Why Americans don't like their President's God"
This just proves that 18 percent of Americans are dumb: These 18 percenters get around, says Jack Shafer at Slate. The exact same portion of Americans "think the sun revolves around the earth," and also "believe all or most of what is published in the New York Times." All this proves is that, regardless what question you ask people, you can "count on stupidity, willful ignorance and intellectual sloth" checking in at around 18 percent.
"Greetings 18 percenters!"
Story updated on at 3pm EST, August 20