By asking voters what they think about the president’s religion, pollsters help to perpetuate a falsehood.
Liberal blogs and sites are having a field day with new data from Public Policy Polling that shows that 52 percent of Mississippi Republican believe President Obama is a Muslim (a comparatively slight 45 percent of Alabama GOP voters agreed with them). Huffington Post had a banner headline Monday morning branding it a “SHOCK POLL,” Talking Points Memo smirked at those southern bumpkins, and Daily Kos deadpanned, “Alabama and Mississippi Republicans don’t believe in evolution … but do believe Obama is a Muslim.”
PPP, which is a Democratic firm, is sometimes maligned for being an unreliable pollster, but in this case the biggest problem is that they’re asking the question at all. The belief that Obama is a Muslim, like the belief that he is somehow not an American citizen, is pernicious and flatly wrong. It has also been rejected by the vast majority of the American body politic, although there are some glaring examples of politicians who flirt with it to score political points. But if the goal is to fight mistaken beliefs, this is the wrong way to do it. The Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan has researched misperceptions and conspiracy-theory belief in America politics. In particular, he and colleague Jason Reifler have found that false ideas, once introduced, are very hard to get rid of. One especially bad way to fight them is to reiterate them…
Source: The Atlantic
This is known as the “familiarity backfire” effect. It also occurred perniciously during the second Gulf war when Saddam Hussein had (not) something to do with it and we had (not) found weapons of mass destruction.
I blame the media.
Here at DN, we try to not reinforce the myths by doing our best to give titles that are least likely to reinforce the myth. It’s hard because you have to describe the situation in some way but you never know what people will take away from the story. However, if they see a word associated with the story, like SOLVED or BUSTED or “declared a HOAX”, they may remember that association. But it’s no guarantee. Maybe the best way is to not mention the myth at all but try to portray the information associated with it in a valid way. That might not work either.