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August 19th, 2010
01:02 AM ET

Only a third of Americans say Obama is Christian; almost one in five say he's Muslim

President Obama speaking in a Washington church earlier this year.

A substantial and growing chunk of the country believes that President Obama, a self-described Christian, is Muslim, while only about a third of Americans are able to correctly identify his religion, according to a survey released Thursday.

Nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, up from around one in 10 Americans who said he was Muslim last year, according to the survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

While most of those who think Obama is Muslim are Republicans, the number of independents who believe he is Muslim has expanded significantly, from 10 percent last year to 18 percent now.

The number of Americans who express uncertainly about the president's religion, meanwhile, is much larger and has also grown, including among Obama's political base. For instance, fewer than half of Democrats and African-Americans now say that Obama is Christian.

In March 2009, 36 percent of African-Americans said they didn't know what religion Obama practices. Now, 46 percent of African-Americans say they don't know.

"You would think the longer the person is in the White House, the more the 'don't knows' would decline," said Alan Cooperman, the Pew Forum's associate director for research. "But the 'don't knows' are higher now than when he came to office."

The survey was conducted in late July and early August.

Though Obama advertised his Christianity on the campaign trail and early in his administration - including distributing pamphlets about his religion during the 2008 presidential race and inviting the Rev. Rick Warren to his inauguration - he has been less public about his faith since then.

Despite intense media speculation about which Washington church Obama would join, for example, the White House has yet to announce that he has joined any.

"We had eight years of George W. Bush, who was very public about religious debates and high profile about religious practice and that's followed by Barack Obama, who is much lower profile about religious beliefs and practices," Cooperman said.

"It could be that in the relative vacuum of information coming out of the White House about his personal religious beliefs, others step in to feel the breach," Cooperman said. "It allows others who say that 'Oh, he's really this or that' to gain some currency."

Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said Wednesday night that Obama has "expanded in a historic way the engagement of persons of faith by this administration."

The president has given six speeches on faith issues, DuBois said, and has launched the first-ever White House advisory council for the faith-based office, composed largely of religious leaders.

"A lot of these facts are not necessarily what the public and the media are focused on everyday, which is not surprising given the issues we're facing as a country: reforming health care, bringing the troops home from Iraq and the economic recovery," DuBois said in an interview.

False rumors that Obama is Muslim have dogged him since he declared his candidacy for president in 2007. Pew conducted its survey before the president's comments last week about the right of Muslims to proceed with a controversial proposal for an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, a Florida evangelical who is in frequent touch with Obama, says their relationship belies the findings of the new survey.

"He is very definitely a Christian, but a lot of the things he does to work on spiritual formation are simply not public," Hunter said.

Hunter said that he is in weekly contact with the president about his spiritual life, including writing devotionals for Obama and praying with him via telephone. Hunter said he received a call from Air Force One on the president's 49th birthday earlier this month.

"Several of us (Christian pastors) prayed with him over the phone," Hunter said. "We talked about his life and what he wanted us to pray for and it was at his initiative."

Earlier, when the president learned Hunter's grandchild had been stricken with cancer, the Florida preacher said he received a call from the White House.

"He called and told me that he and Michelle were praying for us," Hunter said, referring to the first lady. "I explained that this was an aggressive form of cancer and he pastored me, saying the Lord would be with us through this and that we should trust in God. It was a real reversal of roles."

But Hunter said the administration may want to reconsider its messaging on religion in light of the Pew poll.

"It may be time for them (the White House) to be a little more public about what the president does to be an active Christian," he said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Christianity • Politics • Polls

soundoff (1,651 Responses)
  1. LOLZ

    33%. Who'da thunk, the same percentage that still think Bush was a great prez. ROFLMAO. You can't built it idiot proof because they will always build a better idiot.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:49 am |
  2. Isaac78

    What if he should happen to be 1of 5, who happens to be or practices the Muslim faith. We all are 1 of some kind of number when it comes to being a part of some sort of religion, be it Catholic, Protestant, Methodist, Baptist or any other denomination of Faith, does this make people want to give us second thoughts or question our intentions, give our President some credit and at least the benefit of doubt, start backing him instead of knocking him.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:49 am |
  3. nathan

    see if he is a Muslim good for him because he could be a satanist but if he does good by the american public i could care less expecally since the Christian politicians tend to be cheating on their wives and extorting money. so probably a good thing if he is

    August 19, 2010 at 7:49 am |
  4. LennyC

    So, of the people who allow pollsters to intrude on their privacy, 34% correctly identified the President as a Christian, 18% incorrectly as a Muslim, and 2% said 'other' - what did the other 46% say? 'Other' has already been covered, so it can only mean that the other 46% replied "don't know." I for one tell telemarketers to pound salt and to not call again. We Americans are too free with our views in public. Statistics can be manipulated very easily, and simply rendered meaningless.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:47 am |
  5. Tony

    Twenty percent think he's a Muslim? Given that at least 50% of the country is ignorant, how are these results analyzed? Did the survey include Vulcan or Klingon as a choice? Guess they didn't want to make the survey too complicated for the folks in the street.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:46 am |
  6. Jared

    It's true that it doesn't really matter what religion the president is, but what does matter is the fact that such a high percentage of the population is so clueless that they don't know that he IS a Christian and that he was born in an American state named Hawaii. Yes, Hawaii is a state and American citizens are born there everyday. As for Christian, G.W.B. may have attended church, but no where in my Bible does it preach orchestrating a huge lie to justify going to war with another country and murdering thousands of their citizens. Where are the bloody WMDs? I mean, really, almost TEN years after the fact – WHERE ARE THE WMDS? You know, the ones that GWB had PROOF of before invading a sovereign nation and condemning thousands to death. Yeah, GWB is a model Christian.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:46 am |
  7. Brock

    I read about a study once that people who only watch their local news know 20% less about The World then someone who watches a dedicated news network. A person who gets their news strictly from pundits whether it be John Stewart or Glenn Beck know 35% less about The World then someone who gets their news from a newspaper.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:45 am |
    • Frogist

      Actually I read a study saying those who listen to NPR are the best informed about current events followed by people who watch Daily Show and Colbert. Near the bottom of the list were Fox News... I wish I could remember where I read the article or I would post the link.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  8. JJ

    Ho-hum... 95 out of 100 think there's some weird entity in the sky controlling their lives. Who cares.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:45 am |
  9. Craig from Pa.

    Ah...Redneck America at it's finest! Who the hell cares if he's Muslim or not?? Too many Americans haven't travelled to other parts of the world and few are cultured....sad for our society, which we are brazen enough to still think we are the only culture that has things right....and are the best society in the world..

    August 19, 2010 at 7:44 am |
  10. Peter

    Wait a minute. Wasn't it not long ago that many went crazy about Obama being a 20-year member of Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church? Nobody remembers that, huh? What is with Americans and their short term memory?

    August 19, 2010 at 7:41 am |
  11. Erin

    Word of God? I'm confused. You mean that stuff men wrote a long time ago to scare us all? That word?

    August 19, 2010 at 7:39 am |
    • a fan

      @Erin

      I love your posts!

      August 19, 2010 at 7:51 am |
  12. Jared

    With all due to respect to America, this is a sad reflection on the quality of your education system. That such a high percentage of Americans are completely clueless or willfully stupid is something that the rest of America should be very concerned about. A crazy Spanish Civil War general once said, "Down with Intelligence, Long Live Death"...this sums up the GOP and their extremist Tea Bagger fringe. Hopefully, this is just a blip and not the beginning of the American Decline.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:39 am |
  13. Reality

    Yes 1 in 5, that's about the same percentage of intellectually inferior simpletons that stand by the RHR* no matter what.

    *Racist Homophobic Republicans

    August 19, 2010 at 7:39 am |
  14. Mike in KC

    Those that think he is Muslim are the same folks who rely on Cable TV "News" thinking they are educating themselves. Faux News, MSNBC, and even CNN (thanks to Anderson Cooper) do nothing but generate and promote hysteria around stories to draw viewers. There no such thing as real, objective news on Cable. It's all about the ratings game. Thinking for yourself requires you first turn off Cable TV.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:38 am |
  15. Will

    NEWS FLASH: Polls show 1 in 5 Americans are dumb-as-doornails...the other 4 don't participate in hateful polls

    August 19, 2010 at 7:37 am |
  16. bchosmer

    Shouldn't the headline read "One in Five INCORRECTLY believe Obama is a Muslim." Come on, let's at least try, CNN.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:35 am |
  17. yojimbo82

    I'm from Canada and I follow politics, and I can say with all honesty that I have no idea what religion our Prime Minister Stephen Harper is, nor do I care, nor does anyone I know. It's amazing that crap like this actually seems to matter to people in the US. You think you're so far ahead of the rest of the world, but you are light years behind.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:34 am |
  18. Erin

    Muslim=Christian=Jew=Monotheism. Moot point here-all the same religion. Same imaginary God, same characters, same Adam and Rib-woman mythology, same creation story, same Moses, same mythical Abraham, etc., etc., until we all want to puke. Ancient human institutions of control designed to work with governments (kings & queens) to keep all the common folks in line. And yes, we (you) do fall in line, leaving Physics in the SUV in the parking lot, as you cross through the door of your church. For you believers – look up the definition of "superstition," and you will discover the difference between you and me. Ain't be the skeptics killing people all over the f*%#n planet...it's Jews, Muslims, and Christians spilling the blood, as usual, in the name of "god." Either way...Obama believes the World is flat...and uses telepathy to speak to an imaginary "man," so that he can live forever!! Woo-hoo! A perfectly qualified world leader...

    August 19, 2010 at 7:34 am |
  19. Rick

    Obviously, 1 out of every 5 Americans is a moron.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:33 am |
  20. Caron Speas

    1 in 5 Americans are idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:31 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.