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"Building a Nation of Know-Nothings"

New York Times writer Timothy Egan is infuriated that so many people think that Obama is a Muslim. It is easy enough to concede the truth: Obama is not a Muslim (though Obama surely has confused the question to voters who do not pay close attention by speaking so often of his Muslim roots). Thus we also must concede that 30-40% or so of Republicans believe something that is factually incorrect—though that number is surely inflated by the very act of the poll-taking. One would imagine a certain number of incorrect responses if the pollster also asked if Obama was Catholic, Mormon, or atheist; one also imagines that a number of voters are identifying Obama as a Muslim as a way to indicate dislike of Obama's policies rather than because that's how they would answer the trivia question posed to them on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"

And so what? It's not like these voters' incorrect perceptions of Obama's religion are affecting civic discourse. These voters dislike Obama because of his policies, and wouldn't be swung to the D column if magically apprised of the truth about his religion. The bottom half of American voters, Republicans and Democrats alike, are ignorant about a lot of civic subjects. 67% of Democrats do not know that the Senate Majority Leader is Harry Reid; 70% of Democrats do not know that the Dow is at approximately 10,000. The difference is that the Times only thinks that examples of Republican ignorance are newsworthy and relevant to our civic enterprise, even though Republicans consistently outscore Democrats in polls testing political knowledge. Egan's bias in his echo-chamber is so ingrained that he doesn't even see that he is assuming that the default right-thinking position is Democratic orthodoxy, and that voters who disagree must be stupid or bigoted or evil.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.