A new academic study finds that Americans who believed during the 2008 campaign that Barack Obama was a Muslim generally held tight to that misconception, despite efforts by the media, fact-checking Web sites and his own campaign to debunk the myth.
The number of people who incorrectly identified Mr. Obama as a Muslim held steady, at about 20 percent, between September and November 2008, according to an article in the coming issue of The Journal of Media and Religion.
During that time, many news outlets confronted the rumor, and Mr. Obama tried to set the record straight — that he is Christian — in a highly publicized interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
“The efforts of journalists to correct this misperception seem to have had no effect for some people,” said the study’s author, Barry Hollander, a journalism professor at the University of Georgia. “There was this core group of people who were convinced for whatever reason that Obama was lying.”
Mr. Hollander analyzed the responses of 2,409 participants in the National Election Study survey. Asked the same questions over three months, the percentage of people who identified Mr. Obama as Muslim was 20.2 percent in September and 19.7 percent in November.
But some respondents did change their minds. Ten percent of those who believed Mr. Obama was Christian in September shifted that opinion by November. Likewise, 40 percent of those who believed he was Muslim in September gave a different answer by November.
Respondents who were younger, less educated, less politically interested, politically conservative and interpreted the Bible literally were more likely to be among those who shifted from answering that Mr. Obama was Christian to answering that he was a Muslim.
The study reinforces a common finding among psychologists: that memory and knowledge are selective, and that people often reject information that contradicts their beliefs. That’s not a partisan issue, Mr. Hollander said.
For instance, he said, Democrats were quick to believe untrue rumors aboutGeorge W. Bush’s service during the Vietnam War.
“It shows that many people want to believe the worst about a candidate or a politician that they don’t like,” he said. “Negative information is just more memorable. That’s why everyone hates negative advertising, but everyone does it.”