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Church and state on the campaign trail

U.S. President Barack Obama returns to the White House on July 18, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Barack Obama returns to the White House on July 18, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
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In 2008, when he was still a new face to many Americans, 12 % thought Barack Obama was a Muslim, according to the Pew Research Center. Today, a new Pew poll reveals that the number has jumped to 17%. – with over 30% of Republicans taking that view. Obama has talked about his Christian faith many times publicly, so why the lingering – even growing - confusion over our president’s religion? Hasn’t that question, along with doubts about his citizenship, been put to rest long ago?

The anti-Obama faction has been relentless in delivering the message that the president is somehow “un-American” – either by birth or ideology – and stirring the pot about his religious faith. And those who oppose him are only too willing to believe, it seems, despite the evidence to the contrary. As for Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Americans are much better informed: 60% say they know he’s a Mormon, with most of the rest saying they don’t know his faith.

The poll’s results indicated that both candidates are falling short in controlling their message in this area. How heavily will religion weigh in swaying voters this fall? Will conservative evangelicals rally behind Romney despite his Mormonism? Will Obama be able to overcome the misinformation about his Christianity? Do you take a candidate’s faith into account when you go to the polls?


Alan Cooperman, Assistant Director of Research at the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life

John Kenneth White, Professor of Politics, Catholic University, Washington D.C.

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