By Marc A. Thiessen
Monday, August 23, 2010;
Much attention has been paid in recent days to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showing that 18 percent of Americans incorrectly believe that President Obama is a Muslim. But the results of another Pew poll on religion released last December were far more shocking. It turns out that 36 percent of Democrats claim to have communed with the dead, and that 19 percent believe in casting a curse on someone using the "evil eye." Think about that: According Pew, more Democrats believe in the "evil eye" than Americans believe Obama is a Muslim.
The fact is you can find 20 percent of people anywhere who believe in almost anything. As The Post's Aug. 22 Outlook section noted, 20 percent of Americans believe that space aliens have made contact with humans on Earth.
The poll on Obama's religious affiliation probably would have been a one-day story had the White House not launched a surprisingly aggressive defense of the president's Christian bona fides. The White House immediately put out a statement declaring "President Obama is a committed Christian, and his faith is an important part of his daily life." We soon learned from White House officials that the president reads a daily devotional on his BlackBerry each morning and that he dialed three Christian pastors to pray with him on his birthday. The White House even made one of those pastors, Joel Hunter, available to the media to discuss Obama's Christian journey.
Clearly the White House is worried by the poll results. And it should be worried -- but not for the reasons it seems to think. It should be concerned that, after watching the president in office for a year and a half, many Americans still don't know who Obama really is -- and that a growing number have concluded that he does not believe what they believe.
Rather than trying to convince Americans that Obama is indeed a practicing Christian, White House officials should be doing some deep thinking about why the president's job approval rating has flipped -- with most polls showing that more Americans now disapprove of his performance in office than approve of how he's doing. Strong majorities now disapprove of his handling of many of the issues driving key congressional races in 2010 -- such as the economy, health care, the deficit and immigration. A recent Democracy Corps survey found that about six in 10 likely voters believe President Obama is "too liberal" and that he is a "big spender" -- and 55 percent say that "socialist" is a fair description of him.
Obama should be a lot more worried that more than half the country thinks he's a socialist than that a small fraction of the country believes he's a Muslim.
After just 19 months in office, Obama has so alienated the American people that some of his fellow Democrats are now distancing themselves from him as Election Day approaches. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) is airing a television ad in his reelection campaign in which he declares, as an image of Obama appears on the screen, that he does not work for the "Washington crowd." Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes decided to campaign 100 miles away rather than welcome the president to his state, declaring, "I'd rather be with these folks, if you want to know the truth. I'm not running for governor of Washington, D.C. I'm running for governor of Georgia." Even Obama recognizes that he's become radioactive. At a recent White House lunch with Democratic House members in tough reelection fights, he promised to help their campaigns -- by staying away.
These Democrats don't want Obama to stay away because people think he's a Muslim -- they want him to stay away because people think he's taking the country in the wrong direction. They know that come November, voters will be making decisions based on their negative perceptions of the runaway spending he has unleashed, the failure of his stimulus to create jobs or improve their lives, and the health-care bill he rammed through Congress. Making his religion more conspicuous will not change this. The problem for Obama is not that Americans do not know about his faith in God -- it's that they do not share his faith in government.
Marc A. Thiessen is a visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and writes a weekly column for The Post.