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Objectives

During the 2008 presidential election, questions about Barack Obama's religious affiliations spread rapidly over the Internet and became a regular story in the national news. Despite Obama's repeated testimony that he is a Christian, surveys indicated that a sizeable portion of the public believed that he was a Muslim, while others indicated that they were “unsure” of his religious allegiances. We evaluate the extent to which racial attitudes played a role in how the public viewed Obama's religious affiliations.

Methods

We used nationally representative surveys conducted by the Pew Foundation and a state-level survey conducted in Arkansas.

Results

Our findings suggest that attitudes about Obama's religious affiliation were significantly influenced by symbolic racism.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that the American public dialogue about racial politics has evolved in recent years to include religious denominations.