In March 2009, a Pew poll found that 11 percent of Americans incorrectly believed President Obama was a Muslim. A new Pew poll shows that that number has increased to 18 percent. Does this seven-point jump have any significance? Maybe. Maybe not.
Seven points doesn't seem like that big of a statistical shift, and the baseline of 11 percent isn't that surprising, given the high levels of voter ignorance. "Most individual voters are abysmally ignorant of even very basic political information," Ilya Somin concluded in a 2004 study. During the 2000 election, 10 percent of voters didn't know George W. Bush was a Texan, and 30 percent didn't know Joe Lieberman is Jewish. And those were two of the questions on which voters scored best.
But if the 7 point shift is significant, what might have caused it? For Time's Amy Sullivan, "The Pew poll is evidence that the endless conservative media cycle of misinformation about Obama is working: of those respondents who identified Obama's faith as Islam, 60% said they learned the 'fact' from the media."