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University of Iowa News Release

 

Oct. 14, 2008

Voters enthralled with election, but still unsure about Obama's faith

People are paying close attention to the presidential campaigns, but nearly 42 percent of registered voters nationwide could not correctly identify Barack Obama's religion, a University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll released today shows.

In the national poll of 680 registered voters conducted Oct. 1-11, 8.4 percent of all respondents considered Obama Muslim, and 33.4 percent could not name his religion when asked in an open-ended question to identify it.

The Hawkeye Poll is in the field Oct. 1 through Nov. 2 collecting a rolling sample of about 60 registered voters per day. Results are weighted to match the sex, age and race of registered voters nationally. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent. Topline results are available at http://news-releases.uiowa.edu/2008/october/101408hawkpolltopline.pdf.

"It's surprising: despite all the campaigning and intense media coverage, the percentage of American voters who believe Obama is Muslim has not gone down as much as we might expect since a similar Pew study in June, which found that 12 percent believe he is," said Hawkeye Poll Director David Redlawsk, associate professor of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

One thing has changed since the Pew poll: The percentage of Democrats who mistake Obama's religion dropped notably, while the percentage of Republicans who do went up. In June, the percentage was equal regardless of party. Now, the Hawkeye Poll shows that 14 percent of Republicans say Obama is Muslim, compared to only 5.5 percent of Democrats and 4.8 percent of independents.

In the Hawkeye Poll, 39 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of independents did not know Obama's religion, compared to less than one-quarter of Democrats. Likewise, almost 70 percent of Democrats correctly identified him as Christian, compared just 46.3 percent of Republicans and 57.5 percent of independents.

"That's a difference of over 20 percentage points between Republicans and Democrats on perceptions of Obama's Christian religion," said Hawkeye Poll Co-Director Caroline Tolbert, associate professor of political science at the UI. "Media coverage or online information sources linking Obama to the Muslim religion may be responsible for the misinformation."

Choice of news medium could influence awareness of Obama's faith

Differences in where Republicans and Democrats get their news could be associated with perceptions of Obama's religion, results suggest.

TV is the primary news source for the majority of voters from both parties. But when it comes to other favorite news sources, voters vary by party.

Democrats are more likely to turn to the Web as their primary election news source (18 percent of Democrats vs. 12 percent of Republicans). Meanwhile, Republicans are much more likely to rely on radio news or talk shows as their primary source (12 percent of Republicans vs. 6.5 percent of Democrats).

"Of those who think Obama is Muslim, 17.5 percent say their main source of election news is radio, and 12.3 percent say Web," Redlawsk said. "This suggests media consumption patterns may be linked to beliefs about Obama's religion."

Voters' education level, religion tied to mistaking Obama's religion

Voters who believe Obama is Muslim are unlikely to have a college education and are likely to consider themselves born-again or Evangelical Christians.

Seventy-two percent of those who believe Obama is Muslim have not graduated from college.

And, nearly 14 percent of Evangelical Christians believe Obama is Muslim, compared to less than half as many -- 6.6 percent -- of non-Evangelical voters.

Voters tuned into economy, Palin, polls; less aware of Ayers, Biden

Voter interest in the campaign remains high, with 51.2 percent following news about candidates very closely and 40.3 percent keeping a fairly close eye on it.

More than 55 percent of voters surveyed watched national TV news every day of the past week, while 40.5 percent read a paper daily. Only 10.4 percent never watched national news and 28.4 percent did not read papers in that time.

"This is an extraordinary level of interest for a campaign, which means voters are getting a lot of information on which to base choices," Tolbert said.

Over five days of the survey (Oct. 7-11), voters were asked how much they'd heard about former '60s radical William Ayers, whom the McCain camp tried to tie to Obama in that time. Of the 304 respondents, only 34.3 percent had heard a lot about Ayers, 27.4 percent had heard a little and 38.3 percent had heard nothing.

Meanwhile, 95.8 percent of voters had heard a lot about the financial crisis, suggesting that media coverage of the crisis has reached saturation, Tolbert said. Another 83.2 percent had heard a lot about Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin and 78.4 percent had heard a lot about polls. Only 53.2 percent had heard a lot about Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Joe Biden.

"The McCain campaign's effort to connect Ayers to Obama appears to have reached some voters, but the level of awareness pales behind the economy and other issues," Redlawsk said. "It's not at all clear whether this message can break through all the other issues voters are paying attention to."

Voters increasingly predict Obama victory

Confusion over Obama's religion might benefit McCain, but ultimately, voters think Obama will win.

Among those who identify Obama as Muslim, 75.9 percent say they plan on voting for McCain, while only 19 percent plan to vote for Obama.

"While the number of respondents in our sample who believe Obama is Muslim is small at only 58 voters, the vast majority of them plan to vote for McCain," Redlawsk said. "This is much larger than the 51 percent in last summer's Pew results, suggesting that as we get close to the election, those who persist in believing Obama is Muslim are less likely to vote for him than in the summer."

Still, between Oct. 6 and 11, 80.6 percent of those surveyed said Obama will win while only 19.4 percent said McCain will. This represents a significant increase since the Oct. 1-5 timeframe, when 67.5 percent thought Obama would be elected.

"Voters are clearly paying attention to the dynamics of the election campaign," Redlawsk said. "They are reflecting what they see in the polls and hear from the pundits. This election is certainly not over, but regardless of party, voters are overwhelmingly moving to a belief Obama will be elected president."

About the University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll

The University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll is directed by David Redlawsk and co-directed by Caroline Tolbert, associate professors of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The poll is a teaching, research and service project of the Department of Political Science and is housed at the UI's Social Science Research Center. The university's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost provided funding for the poll.

For results of past Hawkeye Polls, a list of UI political experts, and trading prices for Election 2008 contracts on the Tippie College of Business' Iowa Electronic Markets, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/election.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Caroline Tolbert, UI Hawkeye Poll, 319-335-2358 (office), caroline-tolbert@uiowa.edu; David Redlawsk, UI Hawkeye Poll, 319-335-2352 (office), 319-400-1134 (cell), david-redlawsk@uiowa.edu; Nicole Riehl, UI News Services, 319-384-0070 (office), 319-430-6576 (cell), nicole-riehl@uiowa.edu