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Vox published an article claiming that 89% of white people who believe Obama is a Muslim are Trump sympathisers:

You can ask just one simple question to find out whether someone likes Donald Trump more than Hillary Clinton: Is Barack Obama a Muslim? If they are white and the answer is yes, 89 percent of the time that person will have a higher opinion of Trump than Clinton.

Is this true?

  • 2
    I've rewritten this question to be about the actual claim instead of an extremely imprecise second hand report of it. – Sklivvz Dec 8 '16 at 4:28
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    I think the re-writing significantly changes the meaning, though, so most of the previously-existing answers are not responding to this claim. I'd guess that virtually all of the people who believe Obama is Muslim would be Trump supporters (unless they are Muslim themselves), but only a much smaller fraction of Trump supporters actually believe Obama is a Muslim. – jamesqf Dec 8 '16 at 6:31
  • @james yep. Unfortunately the original claim was misrepresenting the issue. – Sklivvz Dec 8 '16 at 6:33
  • @jamesqf You guessed right (see the bottom of my answer) – ff524 Dec 8 '16 at 7:10
  • Logical flaw in the question. Even if everyone who thinks Obama is a Muslim supports Trump, that doesn't make it a good predictor question. If (e.g.) 10% of people thing Obama is a Muslim, and all of those support Trump, that's still 90% of people where the question doesn't really tell us who they support. – DJClayworth Dec 8 '16 at 14:57
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Philip Klinkner, writing for Vox, cites the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) pilot survey as the source of this number.

But, the stated purpose of the study is to test questions for future studies, not to draw general conclusions about the population:

The ANES 2016 Pilot Study was conducted for the purpose of testing new questions and conducting methodological research to inform the design of future ANES studies.

Also, the conclusion Klinkner draws is based on a very small sample: only 328 respondents identified themselves as "White" and said "Muslim" in response to the question "Is Barack Obama a Muslim?". (See below for more on this number.)

The entire data set includes 1,200 samples, collected in an online questionnaire:

Data collection was conducted between January 22 and January 28, 2016. The sample consisted of 1,200 individuals who were part of an opt-in internet panel and who completed the 32 minute (median) questionnaire online.

You can register and then download the data yourself to verify the math that Klinkner did. You may refer to the User Guide for details of how answers to survey questions are coded.

First, you can see that 875 respondents identified their race as "White". These are coded with a 1 for the race variable in the data set.

One of the questions on the survey (the bo_muslim variable in the dataset) was:

Is Barack Obama a Muslim, or is he not a Muslim?

and among the 875 respondents who identified themselves as "White",

  • 328 chose "Muslim" (coded as 1)
  • 543 chose "Not a Muslim" (coded as 2)
  • 4 skipped the question (coded as 8)

So now we're down to 328 respondents.

Among the questions asked of the respondents were:

  • How would you rate Donald Trump? (fttrump in dataset)
  • How would you rate Hillary Clinton? (fthrc in dataset`)

where respondents could specify any value from 0 to 100.

Of 328 respondents who identified themselves as "White" and also answered "Muslim" to the question about whether Obama is Muslim, 285 gave Donald Trump a higher rating than Hillary Clinton. 43 did not.

Finally, let us weight the samples as directed by the survey organizers (using the weight variable). As per the User Guide:

The variable called “weight” on the ANES 2016 Pilot Study data file is the weight for analysis that is intended to generalize to the population. ANES strongly recommends utilizing the weights provided with this data set when making inferences to the target population of U.S. adult citizens.

The sum of the weights of the 328 respondents who identified themselves as "White" and also answered "Muslim" to the question about whether Obama is Muslim is 332.8443. The sum of the weights of the 285 members of this group who gave Trump a higher rating is 295.5019. 295.5019/332.8443 = 0.8878082

That's where Klinkner got the 89% number. But, this number is based on 328 respondents, on a survey that was really only intended for testing new questions for another survey, and may not generalize to the rest of the population.

Also note that

You can ask just one simple question to find out whether someone likes Donald Trump more than Hillary Clinton: Is Barack Obama a Muslim?

is not really an accurate characterization of the ability of this question to distinguish between those who like Trump more than Clinton and those who don't.

Among the 543 respondents in the survey who gave Trump a higher rating than Clinton, about 60% said that Obama is a Muslim: the sum of the weight variable for respondents where fttrump is greater than fthrc and who didn't skip the Obama Muslim question (bo_muslim not 8) is 565.0238, and the sum of the weight variable for the subset of those that answered "Muslim" to the Obama Muslim question (bo_muslim is 1) is 337.6951. 337.6951/565.0238=0.5976653.

So while 89% of those who answered "Muslim" to the Obama Muslim question rate Trump more highly than Clinton, only 60% of those who rate Trump more highly than Clinton answer "Muslim" to the Obama Muslim question. If someone answers "Not a Muslim" to the Obama Muslim question, this is only a weak indicator that they rate Clinton more highly or the same as Trump.

  • add to that the extremely small sample size, and the entire "study" is utterly useless to make any claims whatsoever. – jwenting Dec 8 '16 at 8:14
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    In response to "Is Barack Obama a Muslim, or is he not a Muslim?" does "Yes" mean "yes, he is a Muslim" or "yes, he is not a Muslim"? – Joshua Taylor Dec 21 '16 at 15:27
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No. According to this article:

A new poll finds that 43 percent of Republicans believe President Obama is a Muslim, and 20 percent of all adults believe he was born outside the United States. Source

The poll in question is a CNN/ORC poll and can be found here

Obviously, 43% is worst than picking at random and that does not even account for any Democrats who might believe in this conspirecy theory.

According to this poll, nearly 80% of Republicans view Obamacare unfavorably, thus making it much better party indicator.

I suspect support for gun rights, abortion, and immigration would be much better predictors as well.

I could crunch the numbers, but it's quite obvious that this is not a good indicator at all.

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    The claim isn't about Republicans though, it's about Trump supporters. In the linked article, it says that 89% of the people who believe Obama is a Muslim, favor Trump over Hillary, which this data doesn't disprove, though it might suggest that not all Trump supporters believe Obama is a Muslim. – Alexander O'Mara Dec 5 '16 at 22:57
  • One other issue, both the Vox and Hill articles cite similarly-sized poll data, neither of which are very large, and both are relatively old, with the one you cite being a little older and a little smaller. – Alexander O'Mara Dec 5 '16 at 23:03
  • @AlexanderO'Mara The GOP is the party of Trump now. I've seen polls before the election showing his support in the 80 percentile, I imagine it's much higher now that he has won and even his harshest critics are lining up to be part of his administration. Equating the two is good enough given that the numbers are not even close. – ventsyv Dec 6 '16 at 14:56
  • Note that the question has been made more specific and this answer now needs some work. Sorry about that. – Sklivvz Dec 8 '16 at 4:29
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@ff524 already gave a great answer, but to add more data:

September 4 to 8, 2015

Do you happen to know what religion Barack Obama is? Is he Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, something else, or not religious?

(all people)

Protestant/Christian 39%
Catholic 4%
Jewish 1%
Mormon/LDS 2%
Muslim/Islam/Islamic 29%
Something else 1%
Not religious 11%
No opinion 14%

(whites)

Protestant/Christian 36%
Catholic 4%
Jewish *
Mormon/LDS 1%
Muslim/Islam/Islamic 33%
Something else 1%
Not religious 10%
No opinion 14%

15% of Democrats, 29% of Independents and 43% of Republicans think Obama is Muslim

As Obama said:

The other week he said he didn’t know whether or not I was a Christian. And I was taken aback. But fortunately my faith teaches us forgiveness. So, Governor Walker, as-salamu alaykum.

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