Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard tries to spin away evidence that Republicans are more likely to falsely believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, accusing CBS anchor Bob Schieffer of "a nice little sleight of hand" in making that accurate statement. But in doing so, Sheppard himself is guilty of "sleight of hand" -- or of not understanding basic math. Or both. (The smart money is on "both.")
[W]hen [Bob] Schieffer said "a new poll tells us a growing number of Americans, most of them on the right, believe Barack Obama is a Muslim," this was a nice little sleight of hand to disguise the truth.
Here's what the Pew poll really said:
The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers. Roughly a third of conservative Republicans (34%) say Obama is a Muslim, as do 30% of those who disapprove of Obama's job performance. But even among many of his supporters and allies, less than half now say Obama is a Christian. Among Democrats, for instance, 46% say Obama is a Christian, down from 55% in March 2009.
The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans (up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points). But the number of independents who say Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly (up eight points). There has been little change in the number of Democrats who say Obama is a Muslim, but fewer Democrats today say he is a Christian (down nine points since 2009).
As such, what Schieffer said about "most of them on the right" may have been accurate, but it certainly didn't properly relay the poll's findings.
Sheppard never spells out what he thinks "the truth" really is, which is a pretty good sign that his complaints about Schieffer don't hold water. But based on the portion of the Pew release he chose to include, it seems that Sheppard thinks the finding that "less than half" of Obama's "supporters and allies" say Obama is a Christian undermines the statement that the belief that Obama is a Muslim is mostly found on the right. But it doesn't: that's a bit of "sleight of hand" on Sheppard's part, conflating two different sets of data (those who say Obama is Muslim vs. those who say he is Christian.)
If you look at the Pew data and actually compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges, you see that Schieffer's statement was both "accurate" and "properly relay[ed] the poll's findings."
Pew found that 31 percent of Republicans think Obama is a Muslim, up from 17 percent in March of 2009. That's an increase of a whopping 82 percent. (I'll save Sheppard the embarrassment of trying to correct me on this point by reminding him now of the difference between "percent" and "percentage points.")
Meanwhile, 10 percent of Democrats think Obama is a Muslim, up from 7 percent in March 2009 -- an increase of 43 percent, about half as much as the increase among Republicans.
So Schieffer's statement that the false belief that Obama is a Muslim tends to be found on the political Right is justified by both the percentages in each party who believe that, and by the rate of growth in that belief among members of each party.
Now, for the other data Sheppard referenced: those who (correctly) think Obama is a Christian.
Pew found that only 27 percent of Republicans say Obama is Christian, down from 47 percent last year -- a 43 percent decrease. Meanwhile, 46 percent of Democrats say Obama is Christian, down from 55 percent last year -- a 16 percent decrease, a bit more than a third of the decrease among Republicans.
Again, the data supports the validity of Schieffer's statement. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to correctly say Obama is a Christian, and the gap is widening rapidly.
So, basically, Sheppard has no idea what he's talking about. Again.