Mitt Romney, Muslim Conspiracy Theories, and the Many Ways to Read a Poll

Obama and Romney// Flickr user DonkeyHotey

I’m subscribed to a lot of blogs. Some of them are fun, some of them are information overloads. The one that presents perhaps the most consistent crushing flow of information is Pew Forum (that’s the Pew that deals with religion)’s blog Religion News on the Web (note: I am of a generation that is automatically leery of any reference to “the Web”, “the Net”, or, worst of all, “the Information Superhighway”). It’s a constant rush of US centric stories, but occasional produces something interesting. For one, they often give multiple stories about the same news item, and while sometimes it’s 80 stories with dull variations on the same wording copped from a press release, sometimes something interesting accidentally slips in.

All of these stories are using data from the exact same Pew Survey, but have come to distinct conclusions. I’ve included the headline and the first two or three paragraphs for each publication.  So, which is more newsworthy: idiots still thinking Barack Obama is a Muslim or idiots still thinking Mormonism will make Mitt Romney a bad President?  Turns out, it depends on where you write.

Deseret News (owned by the Mormon Church, but still a respected news source. Fun trivia: Deseret was the original name that Brigham Young and the Church planned for a  Mormon state.  The name comes from the word for “honeybee” in the Book of Mormon). “Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion will have little impact in election” Notice the emphasis: Mormonism=NBD, Obama is not even in the first two paragraphs.

SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, considered to be a potential liability in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, will likely have little consequence when voters go to the polls in November, according to a new survey.

Sixty percent of voters who know Romney is Mormon say they are comfortable with that, while 19 percent say it doesn’t matter, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found. And among Republicans who are uncomfortable with the presumptive GOP nominee’s faith, a whopping 93 percent say they will still vote for him

The Daily News (an independently-owned New York tabloid with a generally right-of-center editorial stance) “Poll finds Americans still confused about Barack Obama’s religion” Note the wording, not “mistaken” or “wrong, just the neutral confused. Romney and his religion aren’t mentioned until the fourth paragraph, and then only as “it’s not an issue for 80% of voters”

Nearly four years after he was sent to the White House, less than half of American voters know President Obama is Christian, a new poll has found.

A survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 49 percent of those polled knew Obama is Christian, while 17 percent thought he is Muslim and 31 percent said they don’t know.

Surprisingly, the percentage of voters who know Obama is Christian has declined since October 2008, when 55 percent correctly identified him as Christian. It is higher, however, than in August 2010, when just 38 percent knew his faith.

Contrast the neutral Daily News headline with one from the Agence France-Presse (one of the big three wire-services, along with Reuters and the Associated Press, a French publicly owned corporation with full editorial independence) “US poll shows persistence of Obama Muslim lie” Mitt Romney is only mentioned in the last line, and clearly only as a comparison to Obama, “Some 60 percent of voters correctly identified Obama’s Republican opponent in the November presidential elections, Mitt Romney, as a Mormon.”

WASHINGTON — More than one in three conservative Republican voters still thinks US President Barack Obama is a Muslim, nearly four years after he won power, said a Pew Research Center survey.

“The number of Americans who say Obama is a Muslim is up since 2008, similar to 2010,” senior Pew researcher Greg Smith told AFP.

Although the number of conservative Republicans who believe Obama is a Muslim stagnated between 2010 and 2012, it has more than doubled since 2008 despite the Christian church-goer’s repeated affirmations of his faith.

Christianity Today (a evangelical publication founded by Billy Graham, originally it was intended to take “the conservative theological position but a definite liberal approach to social problems”, but I don’t know if that’s still the philosophy) “Poll of Americans: Better a Mormon than a Muslim in White House” This is one of the better summaries, actually, with one glaring omission: nowhere in the story does it make clear that Obama is a Christian. Every mention is couched in weasel words like “believe”.

Most Americans are comfortable with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, but they appear more comfortable with President Obama’s religion—that is, unless they believe he’s a Muslim.

New findings suggest that Romney’s religion is unlikely to affect the election, according to a survey sponsored by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The vast majority of those who know Romney is a Mormon are either comfortable with Romney’s religion (60 percent) or say it does not matter (21 percent). Just one-fifth said they are uncomfortable with Romney’s Mormon religion.

The Washington Post (a reputable newspaper of record, like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Editorial stance probably comparable to the Times: slightly left-of-center. Not to be confused with the arch-conservative, Unification Church-owned Washington Times) Wash. Post: Obama’s Muslim problem = Romney’s Mormon problem The headline is probably a little left-wing optimistic (the two scores are not within the survey’s margin of error), but very well-written, in-depth summary with space given to both candidates. This is the only report to mention “independent voters”, that is, the people for whom these questions might matter the most.

President Obama’s “religion” may be just as much of a liability as Mitt Romney’s (actual) Mormon religion.

According to a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, more people are concerned about Obama’s religion (19 percent) than about Romney’s (13 percent).

The reason? The unbelievable number of Americans, now numbering 17 percent, who for some reason think the president is a Muslim.

You can read the actual report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life here: Little Voter Discomfort with Romney’s Mormon Religion, subheadline: Only About Half Identify Obama as Christian.

Most voters continue to say it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs. But voters have limited awareness of the religious faiths of both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. And there is little evidence to suggest that concerns about the candidates’ respective faiths will have a meaningful impact in the fall elections.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, including 2,373 registered voters, finds that 60% of voters are aware that Romney is Mormon, virtually unchanged from four months ago, during the GOP primaries.



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