Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-v2qlk Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-10-01T22:54:57.667Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Motivated Reasoning, Political Sophistication, and Associations between President Obama and Islam

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 June 2012

Todd K. Hartman
Appalachian State University
Adam J. Newmark
Appalachian State University


Recent polls reveal that between 20% and 25% of Americans erroneously indicate that President Obama is a Muslim. In this article, we compare individuals' explicit responses on a survey about religion and politics with reaction time data from an Implicit Association Test (IAT) to investigate whether individuals truly associate Obama with Islam or are motivated reasoners who simply express negativity about the president when given the opportunity. Our results suggest that predispositions such as ideology, partisanship, and race affect how citizens feel about Obama, which in turn motivates them to accept misinformation about the president. We also find that these implicit associations increase the probability of stating that Obama is likely a Muslim. Interestingly, political sophistication does not appear to inoculate citizens from exposure to misinformation, as they exhibit the same IAT effect as less knowledgeable individuals.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Bargh, John A., and Chartrand, Tanya L.. 1999. “The Unbearable Automaticity of Being.” American Psychologist 54: 462–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cohen, Jacob. 1988. Statistical Power Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences, 2nd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Collins, Allan M., and Loftus, Elizabeth F.. 1975. “A Spreading-Activation Theory of Semantic Processing.” Psychological Review 82: 407–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Council on American-Islamic Relations. 2010. “The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States.” (accessed December 23, 2010).Google Scholar
Delli Carpini, Michael X., and Keeter, Scott. 1996. What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Devine, Patricia G. 1989. “Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Automatic and Controlled Components.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56: 518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ditto, Peter H., and Lopez, David F.. 1992. “Motivated Skepticism: Use of Differential Decision Criteria for Preferred and Nonpreferred Conclusions.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 63: 568–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fazio, Russell H. 1995. “Attitudes as Object-Evaluation Associations: Determinants, Consequences, and Correlates of Attitude Accessibility.” In Attitude Strength: Antecedents and Consequences, ed. Petty, Richard E. and Krosnick, Jon A., 247–82. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Greenwald, Anthony G., and Banaji, Mahzarin R.. 1995. “Implicit Social Cognition: Attitudes, Self-Esteem, and Stereotypes.” Psychological Review 102: 427.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Greenwald, Anthony G., McGhee, Debbie E., and Schwartz, Jordan L. K.. 1998. “Measuring Individual Differences in Implicit Cognition: The Implicit Association Test.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74: 1464–80.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Greenwald, Anthony G., Nosek, Brian A., and Banaji, Mahzarin R.. 2003. “Understanding and Using the Implicit Association Test: I. An improved Scoring Algorithm.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85: 197216.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Greenwald, A. G., Nosek, B. A., and Sriram, N.. 2006. “Consequential Validity of the Implicit Association Test: Comment on the Article by Blanton and Jaccard.” American Psychologist 61: 5661.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hollander, Barry A. 2010. “Persistence in the Perception of Barack Obama as a Muslim in the 2008 Presidential Campaign.” Journal of Media and Religion 9: 5566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jackson, Liz. 2010. “Images of Islam in U.S. Media and Their Educational Implications.” Educational Studies 46: 324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kunda, Ziva. 1990. “The Case for Motivated Reasoning.” Psychological Bulletin 108: 480–98.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lane, Kristin A., Banaji, Mahzarin R., Nosek, Brian A., and Greenwald, Anthony G.. 2007. “Understanding and Using the Implicit Association Test: IV: Procedures and Validity.” In Implicit Measures of Attitudes: Procedures and Controversies, ed. Wittenbrink, Bernd and Schwarz, Norbert, 59102. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
Lodge, Milton, and Taber, Charles S.. 2000. “Three Steps toward a Theory of Motivated Political Reasoning.” In Elements of Reason: Cognition, Choice, and the Bounds of Rationality, ed. Lupia, Arthur, McCubbins, Mathew D., and Popkin, Samuel L., 183213. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Luskin, Robert C. 1990. “Explaining Political Sophistication.” Political Behavior 12: 331–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
MacKuen, Michael B., Erikson, Robert S., and Stimson, James A.. 1992. “Peasants or Bankers? The American Electorate and the U.S. Economy.” American Political Science Review 86: 598611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meade, Adam W. 2009. FreeIAT: “An Open-Source Program to Administer the Implicit Association Test.” Applied Psychological Measurement 33: 643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Popkin, Samuel L. 1991. The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sears, David O. 1986. “College Sophomores in the Laboratory: Influences of a Narrow Data Base on Social Psychology's View of Human Nature.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51: 515–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sheets, Penelope, Domke, David S., and Greenwald, Anthony G.. 2011. “God and Country: The Partisan Psychology of the Presidency, Religion, and Nation.” Political Psychology 32: 459–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Taber, Charles S., and Lodge, Milton. 2006. “Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs.” American Journal of Political Science 50: 755–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Westen, Drew, Blagov, Pavel S., Harenski, Keith, Kilts, Clint, and Hamann, Stephan. 2006. “Neural Bases of Motivated Reasoning: An fMRI Study of Emotional Constraints on Partisan Political Judgment in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18: 1947–58.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Zaller, John. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar