Thursday, August 19, 2010

Learning How to Read a Survey

Heaps of folks are tweeting/facebooking about the new survey that has 18% of Americans thinking Obama is a Muslims.  First, as Drezner tweeted, you can get 20% of Americans to say pretty much anything (normal curves have thin tails--but the tails do exist).  Second, this result is entirely driven by White evangelicals/conservative Republicans.  The really consistent change is that more people don't know than before.  So, Fox News has been successful in confusing people.  Or perhaps Obama's tolerance is confusing--that if you tolerate a non-Christian religion, that makes people unsure of what you really are.... I wonder if Howard Dean's numbers or Bloomberg's numbers on this question would have the same pattern?

You know what?  I would actually prefer that the American people didn't know what the religion of the President is.  The President's standing should be on what they are doing, what they have done, what they promise to do, not where they worship or not.  And, indeed, in the other questions, the majority of Americans feel that Obama is behaving correctly:
  • Mentions faith/prayer about right (only white evangelicals/Republicans disagree);
  • Relies on religious beliefs to make policy decisions about right, driven down mostly by white evangelicals who want religious beliefs to matter more.  Um, thank you, but no thanks.
 For me, the second best news is this:

I am a big fan of separation of church and state so seeing public attitudes moving in that direction is a good thing.
But then again, Americans are inconsistent:

Um, yuck.  Not clear that strong religious beliefs lead to good policy-making (Bush!). 

Most amusing finding of this survey--less than half of white Evangelicals consider Republicans to be friendly to religion.  What more could they want?  Oh, never mind--I do not want to know.

Most disturbing finding: While GOP party identification is increasing among all groups (although atheists are left off of the relevant table, Jews have the biggest and only double-digit switch--60% Dem and now 33% GOP.  I guess I am glad I am a bad Jew.  I am sure this is driven by perceptions of Obama being seeing as less pro-Israel than Bush than anything else.  But then again, blind support for Israel is probably actually not good for Israel these days, but that is another post for another day.

Offsetting/coolest trend:
Blue is party ID with Dems, Red is party ID with GOP
That is the trend that matters the most, as that is the group is that is growing and has increasing political weight.  I have been saying for some time that the GOP demagoguery is going to bite the party, and this is just a bit of evidence.

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