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Political Notebook

Poll suggests more Americans confused about Obama’s religion

Senator John F. Kerry and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan spoke to flood survivors yesterday in Jampur. Senator John F. Kerry and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan spoke to flood survivors yesterday in Jampur. (B.K.Bangash/Associated Press)
August 20, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Americans increasingly are convinced — incorrectly — that President Obama is a Muslim, and a growing number are thoroughly confused about his religion.

Nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, said they think Obama is Muslim, up from the 11 percent who said so in March 2009, according to a poll released yesterday. The proportion of respondents who correctly said he is a Christian was down to just 34 percent.

The largest share, 43 percent, said they do not know his religion, an increase from 34 percent who said that in early 2009.

The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center and its affiliated Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, is based on interviews conducted before the controversy over whether Muslims should be permitted to construct a mosque near the World Trade Center site. Obama has said he believes Muslims have the right to build an Islamic center there, though he has also said he will not take a position on whether they should build it.

In a poll by Time magazine/ABT SRBI conducted Monday and Tuesday — after Obama’s comments about the mosque — 24 percent said they think he is Muslim, 47 percent think he is Christian, and 24 percent did not know or did not respond.

In addition, 61 percent opposed building the Muslim center near the Trade Center site and 26 percent said they favor it.

In response, the White House sought to tamp down growing doubts among Americans about the president’s religion.

As Obama headed out for his vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One that most Americans care more about the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and “they are not reading a lot of news about what religion the president is.’’

Burton added, “The president is obviously a Christian.’’

The Pew poll indicated that about three in 10 of Obama’s fiercest political rivals, Republicans and conservatives, say he is a Muslim. That is up significantly from last year and far higher than the share of Democrats and liberals who say so. But even among his supporters, the number saying he is a Christian has fallen since 2009, with just 43 percent of blacks and 46 percent of Democrats saying he is.

Among independents, 18 percent say Obama is Muslim — up from 10 percent last year.

Pew analysts attribute the findings to attacks by his opponents and Obama’s limited attendance at religious services, in contrast with Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, whose worship was more public.

Andrew Kohut, the Pew Research Center’s director, said the confusion reflects “the intensification of negative views about Obama among his critics.’’ Alan Cooperman, the Pew Forum’s associate director for research, said that with the public hearing little about Obama’s religion, “maybe there’s more possibility for other people to make suggestions that the president is this or he’s really that or he’s really a Muslim.’’

Obama is the Christian son of a Kenyan Muslim father and a Kansas mother. From age 6 to 10, Obama lived in predominantly Muslim Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather. His full name, Barack Hussein Obama, sounds Muslim to many.

While living in Chicago, he was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ.

The poll, overseen by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, involved phone interviews with 3,003 randomly chosen adults. Conducted July 21 to Aug. 5, it had a margin of error of 2 1/2 percentage points.

Associated Press

Kerry meets Afghan leader to discuss US contractors
WASHINGTON — Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts has quietly returned to Kabul to continue talks with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, according to his spokesman, Frederick Jones.

Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, left Kabul on Wednesday to tour flood-affected areas of Pakistan, but made a second, unexpected trip back to Afghanistan, apparently to discuss Karzai’s decree that US contractors should leave the country within four months.

“As part of his ongoing efforts to assess conditions on the ground, Senator Kerry has returned to Afghanistan to complete his meetings with Karzai and US officials and will visit with soldiers,’’ Jones said.

Kerry had been scheduled to leave the region last night.

Last year, Kerry made a second, unexpected trip to Kabul to persuade Karzai to accept the findings of an international elections commission. After that trip, Kerry was widely credited for helping to resolve a dangerous impasse between Karzai and the international community.

FARAH STOCKMAN

Democratic Party brought in big donations last month
WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee is expected to report its second best fund-raising of this election cycle — an $11.5 million haul last month that leaves them with $10.8 million in the bank.

The party will show $3.5 million in debts, according to a party official who requested anonymity. The Republican National Committee did not reveal its July fund-raising; it does not have to submit a report until today.

Democrats have raised more than Republicans since March, when the party posted its best total of $13.7 million.

With its July total, the Democrats have raised nearly $65 million this year. Tim Kaine, party chairman, has committed to spending $50 million toward this year’s midterm election, including $20 million in transfers to state and national party committees. The party has already shifted $4.5 million, including $1.5 million each to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Associated Press