The question was about Senator Barack Obama's religion:
Do you know what Barack Obama's religion is?
(IF YES, ASK:) What religion is he?
Here's the breakdown of the answers:
Christian - general: 41%
Don't know: 42%
Some initial observations:
1) I'm not surprised that 7% of the people think Obama is Muslim, although I wonder if that's actually true. Part of me wonders if there are not people out there actually answering that he's Muslim to keep that particular urban legend alive.
2) I think the question was flawed. I can see someone who thinks Obama is Christian but doesn't know his denomination answering "I don't know" to this question, because of the way they would have interpreted "religion." I suspect that if people had been asked to select Obama's religion from a menu of choices, the 42% who don't know would have virtually disappeared.
3) Nobody said Obama is an atheist. I find that almost as statistically impossible as 42% having no opinion.
What intrigues me about this survey question is that it is followed by two questions regarding the importance of religion in voting decisions. Close to 60% of the respondents said that a candidate's religion was either important or very important in determining their vote, and the votes of people in their community.
Yet the survey did not ask if people knew Senator John McCain's religion.
Ask yourself, could you answer the question?
Is McCain Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Baptist?
So what part of a person's religion is so important to the voters?
Obviously, being identified as a Muslim, a Mormon, or an atheist is not good in terms of general electability.
The fact that people who want to slander Obama claim he is a Muslim is good evidence of the first.
Much of the reaction to Mitt Romney's campaign justifies the second.
And most polls I have seen (sorry, don't have a link right now) suggest that the American people would be more likely to vote for an openly gay candidate than an openly atheist candidate.
But what definition does the average voter put with the term Christian? When I converted to Catholicism as an adult, my sister-in-law (an Evangelical) asked me, "Why didn't you join a Christian Church instead?"
Do evangelicals see a community of interest with those Episcopalians who support the ordination of gay bishops?
Do atheists make a distinction between Catholics and Protestants in terms of supporting candidates, or do they prefer Jews in office? I don't know. I just wonder that if you are in the minority of Americans who subscribe to a completely naturalistic universe, but can only vote in the foreseeable future for presidential candidates who all believe in an entity you think is non-existent, which religious delusion would you consider the safest?
What dismays me is what we do not know about the impact of religion on American society and voting patterns, and the stereotypes that are generally accepted regarding that relationship.
I am old enough to remember the days when my Dad advised me that in polite company of strangers, one should never discuss politics or religion. (There was something to be said for that.)
Today, we discuss almost everything, but examine (in a logical, analytical sense) almost nothing.
There is no neat ending to this post, because I can't find any conclusions other than a generalized concern that maybe, just maybe, we've all tacitly agreed not to do the analysis because it is often our ignorance of our neighbors' religious beliefs that allows us to remain on good terms with them.