Something fishy in that AP racism story

The Associated Press had a huge story this weekend accusing American voters of racism, but a racism that has increased in the last four years. When people were asked if they were racist, they said no, but when a survey that measures racial preferences via tiny pictures and Chinese characters was used, the racism was found. The subhead at USA Today is “Overall, the survey found that by virtue of racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote on Nov. 6.” I’m still working through my thoughts about the story, how it was chosen, what it means that the Associated Press chose to investigate this story, the methodology they used, how they interpreted the results, and so on and so forth. But while digging through the data, I came across something very weird.

The question respondents were asked was:

Do you happen to know the religion of each of the following people?  If you don’t know, you can mark that too.

Here are the answers they gave for “Barack Obama” for 2010 and 2012:

It’s not uncommon to see slight variations in data over two years. For instance, 28 percent gave the answer of Protestant, up from 26 percent two years ago. Five percent believe Obama to be Catholic up from 4 percent in 2010. That all seems reasonable.

But what about that 18 percent thinking Obama is Jewish, up from nobody in 2010? Hunh? Or what about 35 percent believing Obama has no religion, up from 2 percent just two years ago? And we’re to believe that 41 percent of people didn’t know Obama’s religion in 2010 but now only 2 percent report that? And why the shocking increase in those who refused to answer?

I don’t really know what this means, but it’s exceedingly hard to buy the idea that we’d see this many changes in just two years.

Does it make sense to you?

It also makes it difficult to trust the overall results when this section is so weird.

Fishy image via Shutterstock.

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  • Will

    As a wild guess, the … people in charge of this thing just did not bother to include “Jewish” two years ago, and are now “comparing” the new one with nonexistent “past results”. But this would not account for the leap in “No religion”.

    • mollie

      It’s a good guess, but elsewhere in the data, if they didn’t have data for 2010, they wrote “N/A” — not “0″. So it can’t be that.

      • Kristen inDallas

        My guess… that the people refusing to answer were not counted as part of the total, and the percentages in 2012 reflect only those who answered. In 2010 I’d suspect that question was asked differently. Something like the survyor asking what religion do you think Obama is and marking refuse only if the respondent refuses is a lot different than asking if someone would like to answer a question about Obama’s religion, and then only asking the follow up to those who say yes.

  • http://www.mypuzzlefix.com Robyn

    The 2012 numbers add up to WAY over 100%. So either a serious error (likely a series of errors) was made, or the numbers reflect raw numbers, not percentages. If it’s the latter, then the sample size was very small, only 128 if I counted right, and therefore probably not a very representative sample. Something is indeed very fishy.

  • George Yancey

    I would love to see the sampling methodology on this. If it is the same in both years does it still obtain a similar group of people. I admit this is odd indeed.

  • Mike Stucka

    Reload the PDF:
    http://surveys.ap.org/data/GfK/AP_Racial_Attitudes_Topline_09182012.pdf

    **2012 numbers have been updated to correct a typo showing 18 percent of respondents saying Obama is Jewish. The numbers for Muslim, some other religion, no religion, and don’t know were displayed in the wrong rows.
    IMG4. Do you happen to know the religion of each of the following people? If you don’t know, you can mark that too.
    [RANDOMIZE THE ORDER OF RELIGION ITEMS IN ROWS]
    [RANDOMIZE THE ORDER OF NAMES IN THE COLUMNS]
    Barack Obama
    2010
    2012
    Protestant
    26
    28
    Catholic
    4
    5
    Mormon
    0
    0
    Jewish
    0
    0
    Muslim
    17
    18
    Some other religion
    8
    10
    No religion
    2
    2
    Don’t know
    41
    35
    Refused/Not Answered
    1
    2

  • DWB

    I justchecked the results you linked to and this correction has been added:
    **2012 numbers have been updated to correct a typo showing 18 percent of respondents saying Obama is Jewish. The numbers for Muslim, some other religion, no religion, and don’t know were displayed in the wrong rows.

  • Daniel Cook

    The linked report has since been corrected. It is now reporting 0% Jewish for both years, and 17% and 18% Muslim for 2010 and 2012 respectively.

  • http://aandbcounseling.com Dr Don

    I don’t think the report makes sense at all. My sense is that more people, if asked in 2012, would opine that Obama was a Muslim simply because of the increased speculation on this since 2008. How could it possibly drop from 17 to 10?

  • Sandy

    ummm, why does the 2012 survey add up to 128?

  • Isaac Rabinovitch

    Of course he’s Jewish! He attends a Seder every Passover, and his wife’s cousin is a rabbi. OK, that’s not a lot of evidence, but we’re talking politics here!

  • northcoast

    Shouldn’t the caption have been, “Something doesn’t add up . . . ?”


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