Saturday, January 21, 2012

Just what religion are they?

The latest YouGov poll has some interesting things about the viewpoints of potential voters about the candidates (from the GOP as well as about the President). Interesting thing about that poll's results (go to page 25 of the report): 30+ year-old, White, women with high school or less education, from the Midwest or South, and with a family income of less than $40k/yr are the most likely to believe that President Obama is a Muslim. (Independently, each of these groups scored 20% or 21%, which was the highest percentage of these categories.) However, being a conservative or a Republican were the greatest indicators of whether you were so massively misinformed on this pretty straightforward topic, with 32% and 35%, respectively, believing he is a Muslim.

Interestingly, only 50% of all responses pegged him as a Christian, which is about as good as flipping a coin with the options being "Christian" and "not a Christian".

Let's compare the answers of the religion question with Romney and Santorum (both ostensibly known or labeled due to their religion). For these non-national, not-presently-serving-in-government people, 65% of people correctly stated Romney as a Mormon and 28% not knowing, whereas only 24% identified Santorum as Catholic (although if you add "Christian" and "Catholic" together, you get 52%) with 47% not knowing.

It's not surprising: much of what most people supposedly knew of Mitt Romney's identity was that he was a Mormon (as well as the former governor of Massachusetts). Indeed, almost no one misidentified him as being Christian (only 4%), Jewish (0%), Muslim (1%), or Catholic (3%), which meant that the remaining were likely mostly inclusive of people who didn't really care about religion as a part of identity. It think - based upon the robustness of the media reports about Romney's Mormon religion - this number (28%) would indicate a baseline percentage against which to compare Obama's own "don't know" of 28%.

Of Santorum: I think that a lot of people were not so knowledgeable, although most could presumably have guessed that he wasn't Jewish (only 1%) or Muslim (0%). Too, most people could have guessed that he wasn't Mormon (indeed only 1%). That left people with the options of Christian, Catholic, or don't know (or Christian/Not Christian). The relatively high "don't know" value of Santorum - 47% - is an interesting commentary, since it may indicate (and it does indicate to me) an inability to correctly determine whether Santorum is Catholic (and thus answer "Catholic") or another type of Christian (and thus answer "Christian"). I think - in the end - that having "Christian" and "Catholic" as the two choices may have actually increased the "don't know" responses for Santorum. If the poll were to have, instead, included only an option for "Christian", then I think that the "don't know" responses would have been much lower. (As an aside, if the options were "Catholic" or "Protestant", I think that the responses would not have been too different, with "Protestant" taking the lion's share of the "Christian" responses.)

Why does all this matter? Well, as for the importance of a president's religiosity, as long as it doesn't affect the governing of the country, I don't really care that much. However, as a metric for how people (and which people) just plain get it wrong about a simple fact about what a person's religion is - that is important. Furthermore, there weren't such patterns of significant differences in response rates as can be seen in the responses for Obama. It means - to me - that there is a segment of the population that is being misinformed and allowed to remain misinformed of a simple fact of what the president is that one must wonder about their viewpoints about any other issues about the identity of the President (and, therefore, their perception about the legitimacy of the President.)

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