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Obama losing a majority ... who think he’s a Christian


President Obama is struggling to get to 50% — not just of voters in November -- but of Americans, at any time, who will recognize that he is a Christian.

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life released a survey Thursday showing that just 49% of Americans described the president as a Christian, while 17% said they believed he was Muslim. Just before the 2008 election, a majority, 55%, described then-candidate Obama’s faith as Christian, while just 12% said he was Muslim.

The lingering questions about Obama’s faith likely come from people of two mind-sets. One is those who have an intense dislike of the president and find confirmation of all their fears in a fever swamp of conspiracy websites. Where a birth certificate is not accepted as proof of someone’s place of birth, forget about verifying something as intangible as a statement of faith.

The second factor driving up Obama’s “Muslim number” is doubtless the urge of some respondents to stick it in the pollsters’ ear -- to commit a small act of defiance by giving an answer the voter knows is untrue. When the interloper in the Oval Office is deeply loathed, why credit him with anything, least that he is a Christian? Willful ignorance becomes a political act.

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The result: While Pew found in October 2008 that 16% of Republicans (and the same percentage of conservative Republicans) called Obama a Muslim, the most recent survey found 30% of Republicans and 34% of conservative Republicans said it was so. Anyone I say is Muslim, is Muslim, got it, pointy-headed (and probably liberal) pollster? Having conjured something like Mullah Barack, is it any wonder that 65% of this group is then “uncomfortable” with Obama as a Muslim?

Republican challenger Mitt Romney has much less of a religion identity problem with voters. Fully 60% of those surveyed understood that the former Massachusetts governor was a Mormon and most of the rest, 32%, didn’t know his faith. Of those who knew he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a large majority either was comfortable (60%) with that notion or didn’t know, or care, about it (21%.)

The long-discussed issue among some political analysts -- that evangelical Christians would not back Romney -- appears mostly unrealized, according to the Pew survey. Doubts among evangelicals do not lead to a major decline of support , but they do create an enthusiasm gap. The Pew pollsters concluded: “Among Republican and Republican-leaning voters who say they are comfortable with Romney being Mormon, 44% back him strongly. Among those who are uncomfortable with it, just 21% say they back him strongly.”

Neither Obama nor Romney has made religion a major component of a campaign yoked relentlessly to jobs and the economy. It’s unclear, in any event, that a lot of religious talk would change the views of each man’s most ardent detractors. Romney’s Mormon faith will never be Christian enough for the few. Obama could be baptized in front of his most extreme naysayers and they would just find the holy water impure.

james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesrainey


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