Republicans from time to time have accused President Obama of playing identity politics. Here’s the problem: The electorate remains confused about his identity.
The problem is most famously manifested in persistent conspiracy theories, driven by conspiracy-loving “birthers,” about Obama’s birthplace and citizenship. But voters remain muddled about his religion as well, as a new Gallup poll confirms.
The poll released Friday shows that just 34% of Americans can identify Obama as a Christian or, more specifically, as a Protestant. Eleven percent remain convinced that he is Muslim, and 44% say they don’t know.
That is striking, because few presidents have spoken and written as much about their faith as Obama. His Christianity, in fact, ignited the biggest controversy of his 2008 campaign when incendiary videos of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s longtime pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, went viral on the internet. Obama eventually severed ties with Wright, and since then has attended a variety of Christian churches. He uses Christian language and imagery often in speeches
The Gallup findings were remarkably consistent with those of a Pew Research Center poll in August 2010, in which 34% of those surveyed said Obama was Christian, 18% said Muslim and 43% said they didn’t know.
It is also notable that the matter is even an issue. Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Columbia University and the author of “God in the White House: How Faith Shapes the Presidency — from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush,” has noted that there was a time in American politics when the electorate didn’t pay any attention to the president’s religion and didn’t particularly care.
The Gallup poll was based on telephone interviews conducted June 7-10 with a random sample of 1,004 adults nationwide. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.