What’s perplexing about the latest Pew poll, reported in the new God in Government blog, isn’t that one in 10 Americans still thinks President Barack Obama is a Muslim. One in 10 Americans still believes Elvis is alive.
What I find most troubling is that only 55 percent of Democrats polled know their party’s leader is a Christian — and that’s actually down from 61 percent in October. Ignorance is even higher among Republicans (46%) and Independents (45%).
What does that say about America? Do we not care about a president’s religious beliefs? Are we not paying attention? Do we just not test well?
It wasn’t a difficult question — multiple choice instead of fill-in-the-blank. “Do you happen to know what Barack Obama’s religion is? Is he Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, or something else?”
If the person said he didn’t know (37 percent didn’t), the pollster asked a followup: “Is that because you’ve heard different things about his religion, or because you just don’t know enough about him?” Twenty-seven percent actually said they hadn’t heard enough about him (compared to 15 percent last June).
So apparently 27 percent of Americans are living in 1973 with Elvis.
I realize that a president’s personal religious beliefs are irrelevant in our constitutional democratic republic. But it’s not like the pollsters were asking about Obama’s shoe size, his favorite poet, or even his hometown. Obama’s religious background and beliefs were a pretty big issue during the incredibly long and contentious 2008 presidential campaign.
Still, fewer than half of those polled by Pew correctly identified President Obama as a Christian. And more than a third didn’t know what to say. Would so many people be stumped by the same question about George W. Bush? Bill Clinton? Elvis?
Maybe I’m making too much of it. After all, Obama scored higher than God in a recent Harris poll asking Americans who they admire enough to call their heroes. Obama placed first. God came in at No. 11, one spot behind Mother Teresa. Elvis was nowhere to be found.