WASHINGTON (RNS) President Obama faces significant challenges on how Americans perceive his religious faith, as 51 percent say his beliefs differ from their own, according to a new poll.
The 2010 post-election American Values Survey detected a link between views of the president’s beliefs and his favorability ratings: More than nine in 10 Americans who see his religious beliefs as similar to their own view Obama favorably; eight in 10 those who see differences view the president unfavorably.

“Given that Americans generally want political leaders who share their values, this could be a serious problem for the president moving toward 2012,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the poll with the Brookings Institution.

The findings follow earlier surveys that found as many as one in five Americans mistakenly believes Obama is a Muslim. Only 34 percent could correctly identify him as a Christian, according to a Pew Research Center poll released in August.

Three-quarters of Republican and Tea Party voters say Obama holds different religious beliefs; that view is also prevalent among older adults and those with no college education.

Nearly half (49 percent) of Catholics say Obama holds different religious beliefs, along with 60 percent of white Christians. One in four Americans say Obama’s religious beliefs guide his decisions “a lot,” compared to 42 percent who said “a little” and 28 percent who said “not at all.”

In other findings, the PRRI poll found that nearly half (49 percent) of Americans do not think the values of Islam are compatible with American values, while 45 percent said they are.

Two-thirds of Tea Party and Republican voters said Islamic values are incompatible with American values, as well as 57 percent of evangelicals, 53 percent of Catholics, 47 percent of mainline Protestants and only 28 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.

The poll, based on 1,494 follow-up interviews with 3,013 U.S. adults who were polled before the midterm elections, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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