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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. LaBroDi

    And one third of the country thought that George Bush was a racist, so what! Who cares, there are so many more important things going on in this country/world than to worry about what religion the President is. And besides, is being Muslim a crime in this country especially when we have trained muslim's in the past just so it can used against us. If people would really do their research, they would know that for years he was a member of a Christatian church and muslim do not play around when it comes to their religion so I doubt if he was faking. The bottom line is that people are racists in this country and it's not what the President's religion is, it's not where he was born, it's because he is a bi-racial man of color.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  2. das0522

    Could it be because of his speaking out in favor of an Islamic "center" near Ground Zero, his director of NASA telling us the mission of the agency is to highlight Muslim contributions to math and science? Just wondering.....

    August 19, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  3. Buster Bloodvessel

    Just shows many Republicans take great delight in perpetuating that slur, not that they actually believe it.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:46 am |
  4. Rossinala

    I don't care what his haith is! I do have a problem with the President when he ignors the National day of Prayer but attends a RAHMADON dinner at the White House, Little things like that make people wonder? then going Pro MOSQUE. I forgot that 9/11 never happened!

    August 19, 2010 at 8:45 am |
  5. Brian

    So basically, 1 in 5 Americans are idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:45 am |
    • das0522

      Could it be because of his speaking out in favor of an Islamic "center" near Ground Zero, his director of NASA telling us the mission of the agency is to highlight Muslim contributions to math and science?? Ya think??

      August 19, 2010 at 8:48 am |
  6. Cyril

    Half christian half moslem is absolutely a moslem... Darkness and light can never live in one roof... let the National Assembly pass a vote of resistance for the mosque construction...it is illegal and humiliating for the innocent people that died on Sept 11...

    August 19, 2010 at 8:44 am |
    • nogod

      Organized religion has outgrown its usefulness. Jesus was not divine. It's sad that so many people base so much of their lives on the best guesses of people who lived two thousand years ago - people who had the equivalent of a 3rd grade education, at best.

      August 19, 2010 at 8:49 am |
    • Edwin

      Can you give an example of how the mosque is actually illegal? I mean, using United States law? I don't actually need technical details - just a rough illustration of what you think actually makes this illegal. Not immoral, but illegal, since you used that particular word.

      August 19, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  7. Paul

    And how many Americans believe in angels?

    August 19, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  8. das0522

    Could it be because of his speaking out in favor of the Islamic "center" near Ground Zero, his director of NASA saying the mission of the agency is to highlight Muslim contributions to math and science? Just wondering....

    August 19, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  9. IamMyVoice

    Only 1 in 3? Where do you think his name comes from? He was born (not sure where) BARRY SOETORO. His present name was given/chosen when he attended Muslim school. We don't really know what belief structure he personally choses now, but at one time he was definitely a Muslim student of the Qur'an (Koran). If he were not Muslim today, why would he keep that name? To get votes? Perhaps he is what he needs to be in each situation.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:44 am |
    • Edwin

      He attended Reverend Wright's church for many years. Do you think he went for the abstract theory? No - he went because he is Christian!

      The fact that you think he changed his name is kind of irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Court documents do not mention this name change, and I have never heard anyone (even from Fox) claim this name change before. So... I would have to say it sounds kind of kooky. But again, it is irrelevant, as is the possibility that he might not have been born as a christian. He chose to follow Christianity as an adult.

      August 19, 2010 at 8:52 am |
    • Krista

      It's absolutely disgusting when any political group resorts to outright lies against their opponent to try to garner support. People like you and many other conservatives are lying through their teeth trying to keep the negative rumors going. Basically, you Can't win on the issues, so you try to convince the ignorant to believe your falsehoods.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
    • Frogist

      Are you seriously asking a sitting president to change his name to make you feel better? If he were so insincere about himself and just cared about getting votes, he would make it easier on himself and change it to something else. But even if he changed it to Santa, people like you would want to deport him cuz it sounds too Mexican. Muhammad Ali is no longer Cassius Clay and Kunta Kinte is not Toby. He keeps his name because it is his name. Just like you keep your name, for the same reason. Otherwise I could call you Paranoid Biased McFactflubber. It would be more accurate.

      August 19, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  10. Edwin

    This is utterly ridiculous! Where are all those angry republicans who complained aggressively about the Reverend Wright during Obama's campaign? Remember him? Obama's pastor? At that time, the conservative right complained that the pastor was too mean, and Obama should not have attended so regularly.

    So what has changed? Was he SECRETLY muslim all along? The people in this poll don't think he suddenly saw the Islamic light, so to speak, do they?

    Bottom line: most Americans hate muslims so much they cannot understand ANYONE, let alone a president, behaving in a positive fashion towards muslims. Thus, he MUST secretly be a muslim - because non-muslims would hate ALL followers of Islam.

    This kind of Anti-American behavior is sickening! I know we are not always tolerant, but come on! There is PROOF that Obama attends christian churches. There is PROOF that he has for a long time. But if proof is not enough, what is? And where is all this hate being generated?

    August 19, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  11. A Kahn

    1 in 5 people are also beyond stupid. These are the same people that can't even grasp the concept that Hawaii is a state and part of the US, but still think Obama isn't a US citizen for being born there. 1 in 5 people in the rural south still think the civil war is going on. And a lot more people are completely clueless over what Islam really is about. You want a waring religion, tally up the death toll on what Christians have done over the centuries. Both religions have their extremists and their non extremists. So lets all get off the ohhhh Islam is bad, because the exact same crap can be said for Christianity as well...

    August 19, 2010 at 8:43 am |
    • Edwin

      Kahn: unfortunately, you are wrong about birthers. They don't think Obama was born in Hawaii - they think he was born in Indonesia or somewhere else - and the birth certificate is faked.

      Remember Area 51? A fair number of people are utterly convinced that aliens landed there, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that the military was simply conducting research into jets there. When the government initially appears to hide something, people will assume the hidden thing is a conspiracy - even if the government didn't really hide it in the first place.

      Basically, the birthers are the right's answers to the alien abductees on the left.

      August 19, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  12. Manny

    The same one in five that believe Fox News is a legitimate news source.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  13. SDK

    now we can measure what stupidity is in America: 1/5 of the population.
    please just take a look back at the american constitution: somewhere in there, u will find the word FREEDOM...for everybody with any religions or none...if this is now in doubt in this country, then we r not much better than the extremists...Obama can be muslin, orthodox, christian, protestant or buddhist, or gay, or black HE IS A FREE AMERICAN !!!!!!!!!! don't u get it (refering to the 1/5). Thanks to him. he is the pride of america, the 1/5 are the shame of it....

    August 19, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  14. deuce

    In other news, 1 in 5 Americans are FCKING STUPID.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  15. WNBRESN

    Gee 1 in 5 thinks Obama is Muslim..Why thats just the proportion of America who also identify them selves with being Tea Bagging Conservative nutjobs.. My guess is that none of those 1 in 5 would consider themselves liberal..

    August 19, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  16. Butch

    This story just goes to show how gullible the American public really is. They will believe *anything* anyone on Fox "news" tells them, regardless of how far-fetched or ridiculous it is. That's one point. The second, and much more important point is, WHO CARES!?!?! If Obama is a Catholic, a Mormon, a Muslim, or if he chants in front of a burning bush, WHO CARES!?!?! He is the President of the United States. The United States is not a Christian nation. It is not a Catholic nation. It is not a Jewish nation. It is not a Muslim nation. Also, it is not an anti-Christian nation, an anti-Jewish nation, or an anti-Muslim nation. This country was founded on the basic principle of FREEDOM (that word that the right loves to throw around) of religion, or the freedom not to have any religion.

    As long as Mr. Obama is fulfilling his sworn duties to protect and defend the Constitution (which, in the case of the Islamic center in NYC, he most assuredly IS doing), then whether he's a Christian, a Muslim, or a Smurf makes not one tiny tidbit of difference.

    People need to tune out Fox and the other purveyors of hate on the right and start doing a little independent thinking for a change.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  17. Cyrinus

    Maybe a poll should also be conducted if President Obama is an alien or a human being?.......or if he eats through his mouth or nose?

    August 19, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  18. Papo

    He may not be muslim, but the reason we even have this debate (aside from his name) is that he is obviously not so devout a Christian. Church attendance only came later in his life – after he decided on a future in politics – after a lifetime of atheism. His present church is also nothing more than a racist embarrassment.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  19. Gwen

    I hate to say it, but there are so many ignorant people in this country who don't know how to think for themselves...Instead of trying to learn the facts, they sit at home and listen to this crap that is pump out of these tv stations from people who have one goal in mind...to make money....I have never believed President Obama was a muslim and still don't believe it now...If he is a muslim, he's one of the most Christian muslims I've ever seen in my life...The bible states that "My people perish for the lack of knowledge"...And the sad reality of it all is that we're raising children as dumb as hell as we are...If we would get up off our lazy butts and turn off these reality, sports, and talent entertainment shows and begin to read, research and find out the truth and stop letting the tv and media think for us and our kids, this country would be a lot better off...I pray for president Obama every night...I pray that God will deliver him from the ignorant, uninformed and stupid masses that he has to govern every day in this country...If all the acomplishments he has attained since he's been in office makes him a muslim, then by all means give me a muslim any day.....

    August 19, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  20. andrew

    ever notice there is always the same discussion every 4-8 years. the government is never going to get everything right. there will always be someone who disagrees with how things are ran. Thank God for democracy.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:40 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.