Obama the Muslim

So, that previous post reminded me from something I meant to blog about last week and forgot.  Political Scientist, John Sides, filling in for Ezra last week had a really nice post about why more people think Obama is a Muslim and who they are.

Here are the trends from the March 2009 to August 2010 polls in the perception that Obama is a Muslim. I divide the sample into Democrats and Republicans. Independents who lean toward a party are counted as partisans (see here for why), so this analysis includes about 90 percent of the sample. I then divide the sample into the education categories that Pew provided: those with a high school degree or less, those with some college education, and those with a college degree or more.

The growth in this perception among Democrats is small and is consistent across education levels: a 2-4 increase within each level.  By contrast, the growth in this perception among Republicans is more notable among those with some college education (a 19-point increase) or a college degree (15 points) than among those with a high school degree or less (9 points).  In other words, better educated Republicans have changed more than the less educated Republicans. This flies in the face of the “dumb Americans” idea and provides some support for Nyhan’s hypothesis. The people most likely to hear the “Obama is a Muslim” meme are the ones whose beliefs changed most dramatically in the past 17 months.

I was a bit surprised that Sides did not mention the work of John Zaller, as this ties in quite well with his work on opinion change.  Most people assume that it is the “dumbest” or least educated Americans who will be most influenced by the media and let Glenn Beck, et al., drive their opinions.  The truth is, though, that those Americans consume very little news and political media.  You have to be exposed to information to have your opinions change.  In this case, the more educated the Republican, the greater the media consumption and thus the more the exposure to all this Obama the Muslim absurdity.  Democrats, on the other hand, aren’t going to be as exposed to the right-wing sources spreading this junk, and even if they are, obviously not inclined to believe it.

I’m sure you could find something that makes Democrats look bad and credulous in comparison to Republicans, but I truly doubt you’d find anything near this egregious.  As much as David Broder and his type (including many of my students) always want to suggest, American politics is not symmetric.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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