By RICHARD S. DUNHAM
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
Oct. 29, 2008, 11:27PM
WASHINGTON — A University of Texas poll to be released today shows Republican presidential candidate John McCain and GOP Sen. John Cornyn leading by comfortable margins in Texas, as expected. But the statewide survey of 550 registered voters has one very surprising finding: 23 percent of Texans are convinced that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is a Muslim.
Obama is a Christian who was embroiled in a controversy earlier this year about his two-decade membership in Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Yet just 45 percent of those polled identified the Illinois senator as a Protestant.
The Obama-is-a-Muslim confusion is caused by fallacious Internet rumors and radio talk-show gossip. McCain went so far at one of his town hall meetings to grab a microphone from a woman who claimed that Obama was an Arab.
The Texas numbers are unusual because most national polls show that just 5 to 10 percent of Americans still believe Obama is a Muslim — less than half the number of Texans who buy into the debunked theories.
The UT poll shows McCain running ahead of Obama statewide, with a 51 percent to 40 percent margin. Cornyn, a first-term Republican from San Antonio, leads Rick Noriega, a state representative from Houston, 45 percent to 36 percent. Another 14 percent of voters remain undecided in the contest.
The poll found that 89 percent of Lone Star State voters say the country's economic situation is worse than a year ago. And President Bush and Congress both get record low marks.
Just 34 percent of Texans approve of Bush's job performance — a big change for a former governor who won re-election 10 years ago with 70 percent of the vote. And Congress is even more unpopular: Just 8 percent of Texas voters approve of the work being done on Capitol Hill.
The telephone poll was conducted by the Texas Politics Project and Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin. The poll was conducted from Oct. 15 to 22, and had a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.
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