- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2010

The White House on Thursday dismissed new polls showing that between one-fifth and one-fourth of U.S. voters incorrectly believe President Obama is Muslim, saying most Americans are focused on the economy right now and not on Mr. Obama’s faith.

“The president’s top priority here isn’t making sure that Americans know what a devout Christian he is. It’s making sure that we’re getting the economy on track and we’re creating jobs in this country,” Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Mr. Burton said the president, who began a 10-day vacation with his family on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts on Thursday, prays and communicates with a religious adviser every day and noted that Mr. Obama has spoken about his faith in the past.

Even so, a small but growing segment of the public still has its doubts.

A Time magazine poll showed that nearly one-fourth - 24 percent - of Americans believe the president is a Muslim, with just 47 percent answering that he’s a Christian.

Separately, a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday showed that 18 percent of likely voters think the president is Muslim - up from 11 percent in March of last year. In the Pew poll, just 34 percent said Mr. Obama is Christian, while 43 percent were unsure.

Questions about Mr. Obama’s religion - which he has sometimes attributed to the fact that his middle name is Hussein -are nothing new. But the fact that the misperceptions have lingered and even grown in the past 18 months appears to correlate with political attitudes and increasingly dim approval ratings.

According to Pew, one-third of conservative Republicans say Mr. Obama is a Muslim, as do the 30 percent of those who don’t approve of his job performance. Even independents increasingly view him as Muslim, while fewer Democrats say he is Christian.

The polls also come as Mr. Obama struggles to find his footing in the charged national debate over a proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center two blocks from Manhattan’s ground zero, with the president’s comments in recent days attacked by both supporters and opponents of the plan.

An overwhelming majority of Americans - 61 percent - oppose the site of the mosque according to the Time poll, although a majority also support the right of backers to build it.

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