18% of Americans think Barack Obama is Jewish

Per page 13 of this AP poll, the proportion of people who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim went from 17% down to 10% between January 2010 and September 2012.

However, 18% now think he is Jewish.

I would dearly love to hear an explanation of this result because I can’t think of one.

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22 thoughts on “18% of Americans think Barack Obama is Jewish

  1. Dan Schmidt says:

    The percentages add up to 128 so maybe there is something else weird going on.

  2. Terence Tao says:

    I suspect that for some people, the principal component analysis of race is dominated by a single coordinate: “white” vs. “other”.

  3. Terence Tao says:

    … and similarly for religion.

  4. Alec Milam says:

    Now THAT is a problem, Dan! hahahaha. There are some serious pollster/typographical issues going on there!

  5. Alec Milam says:

    i was interested to read recently that several behavioral psychologist professors consulted for Obama and, among many other suggestions, told him and his team that it was more effective to combat ridiculous accusations (such as the Muslim one) with alternate positives, rather than denials. Thus, they strove to emphasize his Christianity whenever possible. But I hesitate to hypothesize about the Jewish question at hand since that 128% total makes all the numbers suspect.

  6. Tina Hsu says:

    I cannot wait for the day when asking about the religion of a candidate/leader is considered as frivolous as “boxers or briefs”.

  7. Alec Milam says:

    I don’t know… i look forward to the day that skin color and sexual orientation are irrelevant. But religion is a choice, and it reflects values and sound judgment (or lack thereof), and I’ll always consider it in my judgment of candidates. Unfortunately, we can’t even trust candidates’ claims of what their beliefs are, because agnostics and atheists would be un-electable in the current social climate, so any pragmatic candidate is effectively forced to lie.

  8. In both years, less than 30% knew that Obama is a protestant, whereas 67% knew that Romney is a mormon. Of course, even the latter figure is pretty sad…

  9. NDE says:

    One of your Facebook followers found a plausible explanation: confusion with Ehud Barak.

  10. piper says:

    religious beliefs have to be learned (or made up), so that does make religion different from skin color and sexual orientation, but i still wouldn’t call it entirely a choice… certainly not a free choice. (and there are so many different ways to be in a religion, that i don’t think knowing someone’s religion tells you anything about their “values and sound judgment.”) i guess there are many converts who choose to leave one religion and/or join a(nother) religion, but for those who are happily in the religion of their childhood, i think it would be incredibly offensive, for instance, to ask whether they’d tried “not being” jewish/christian/muslim/etc. i dunno. i’d only worry if the religion only had a small cult following and/or if it was extremely secretive.. i (probably) wouldn’t vote for someone whose religious book said end times would come when one of their own achieved higher office and started a world war, for example.

  11. Jim says:

    Rather 18% *say* they think he’s Jewish.

  12. Bobito says:

    I think this is spot on. When I was growing up in the US south as an avowedly non-religious person, it was frequently assumed (e.g. by teachers, parents of friends, etc.) that I was Jewish, since what else could I be if I didn’t go to church?

  13. [...] Or it’s because cricket races are crap on a stick. [...]

  14. [...] Or it’s because cricket races are crap on a stick. [...]

  15. kj says:

    A nonreligious friend of ours moved to the south a few years ago, and decided that she was Episcopalian, because that was the only religion that didn’t have a local church. It’s worked pretty well so far.

  16. kj says:

    *only Christian denomination, I should say. Since what else is there? /rural south

  17. David Speyer says:

    Notice that, if you delete the 28 from the bottom entry, insert a 0 next to Jewish and shift all entries below Jewish down by one, then the data is much more consistent from year to year and adds up to 100. I suggest that someone miscopied the a spreadsheet column, leaving the rows misaligned.

  18. JSE says:

    Why you gotta come in here and detective away my snarky post?

  19. Mark Meckes says:

    That of course also implies that the proportion who think Obama is Muslim didn’t decrease at all.

    Personally I found the drastic (apparent) changes in responses of “No religion”, “Don’t know”, and “Not answered” to be much more surprising, so it’s nice to see that cleared up.

  20. antimatter15 says:

    I shared this with a friend, and tried to get it from a more reputable source (I would prefer a link to something direct off the AP than failedmessiah.typepad.com), so I googled the filename and in that section of http://surveys.ap.org/data/GfK/AP_Racial_Attitudes_Topline_09182012.pdf it says

    **2012 numbers have been updated to correct a typo showing 18 percent of respondents
    saying Obama is Jewish. The numbers for Muslim, some other religion, no religion, and don’t
    know were displayed in the wrong rows

  21. plm says:

    Thanks alot David. You clearly figured this out. The post can still be snarky about the increased number of people thinking he is muslim or “some other religion”.

    A few related questions here: What is the religious attitude of mathematicians compared to average population -in the US at least? I know several examples, anecdotes, but I cannot quite make a general picture out of them:

    Teenage Euler wanted to be a priest, and many famous early mathematicians were clergymen. Barry Simon is a master of jewish religion I think, as is Robert Aumann, and I think that lots of great mathematicians were jews. Grothendieck became buddhist I think in his 30s.

    Dear Terence Tao, if you read this: are you religious?

    Anybody with related thoughts or references, please comment.

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