Depressing story of the week

obamaWhat role did journalists play in the fact that one out of every ten Americans believes Illinois Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is of a religion other than Christianity? A depressing poll from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that ten percent of Americans mistakenly believe that Obama is a Muslim. Here's the Religion News Service report on the numbers:

While a majority--53 percent--identify Obama as a Christian, 16 percent of conservative Republicans, 16 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 19 percent of rural Americans believe the Illinois senator is Muslim.

About a third of Americans said they don't know what Obama's religious beliefs are, and 9 percent of that group said it's because they've heard different information about his faith.

Confusion over the candidate's religion crosses party lines. Fourteen percent of all Republicans, 10 percent of Democrats and 8 percent of independents think he's Muslim, according to the survey.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans said they had heard something about controversial sermon sound bites from Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that have been circulating in the media.

The numbers are depressing, but can they be that surprising, when you have media reports on rumors that come close to treating the story as if it might be true? There was some speculation that the whole Wright story would help put those rumors away, but sadly, Americans remain shockingly uninformed.

An interesting way to slice this story would be to look at whether or not these persistent rumors actually hurt Obama's popularity. In other words, would these one in ten Americans consider supporting Obama if they became properly informed as to his religious identity, or does the mistaken belief even keep them from voting for him?

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