Gallup came out with an report today with data showing that Muslims give Obama the highest job approval rating in the country and Mormons give the president the lowest. CNN picked it up and reported it on their website. Sigh… where to begin…
First, the headline is misleading. It’s implying that of all social groups in the country, Muslims and Mormons are on polar opposite ends of the president’s job approval rating continuum. This report, however, is looking exclusively at religious denominations. A more accurate headline might have read something like “Muslims Give Obama Highest Job Approval of All Religious Groups; Mormons, Lowest.” In fairness, CNN explained as much in the first paragraph of the article, but that does little to help clarify things for those who don’t read past the headline.
Second, religious affilitation is not the most significant predictor of presidential approval in this country. It’s political partisanship. Democrats love Democratic presidents and Republicans love Republican presidents. In any statistical analysis that compares partisanship to religious affiliation, partisanship wins and religious affiliation becomes largely irrelevant. A recent Pew study shows that 63% of American Muslims consider themselves Democrats while only 22% of Mormons consider themselves Democrats. These figures just happen to be on polar opposite ends of the partisan continuum for religious groups. All this is saying is that lots of American Muslims are Democrats and lots of Mormons are Republicans. Big surprise.
Third, most research in religion and politics throughout the last twenty years has shown that political denominational affiliation has grown to become a very weak predictor of political attitudes. Rather, orthodoxy of religious beliefs is the most powerful religious predictor of political partisanship, and consequently, presidential job approval ratings.
Fourth, the Gallup poll paints “Protestants” with a very wide brush, including Evangelicals, Mainliners, Black Protestants, and even “Other Christian” all in the category. This is not very helpful, politically-speaking, because each one of these groups has very different social make-ups and political attitudes.
Bottom line? I read the headline and the story on CNN and find myself asking… so what? It doesn’t help me understand very much about the relationship of religion and approving of President Obama’s job approval rating. Furthermore, it only adds more fodder to the “Obama is a Muslim” misinformation compaign being conducted in this country (“Oh look! Muslims love Obama, so he must be one!”)
Again, about the only substantive conclusion that we can really draw from this poll report is that Democrats (some of which happen to be Muslims) approve of Obama and Republicans (some of which happen to not be Mormons) don’t. And as I said before… big surprise.