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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. Ray

    Who cares? We need jobs and who was survey and how many. The media is always trying to get something started. President Obama is trying to work for all people. How quick we forgot the eight years before him. 😦

    August 19, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  2. JaxB

    Certainly, placing a Mosque in close proximity to the World Trade Center site is problematic, and I can understand the outrage among the families of 9/11. However, President Obama made the right call: It is his JOB to "...faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." I applaude his integrity in this regard. So many Americans seem to believe that the First Amendment exclusively addresses their brand of Christianity, yet this assumption is incorrect. Had our President adopted any other stance in response to this issue, or remained silent, he would have demonsrated the worst form of executive cowardice.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  3. Real not fantasy

    When is it that people will realize that religion is the root of all evil. A fairytale like any other just taken a bit too seriously. C'mon world!!! We all know in the back of our minds that religion spawned from our own curiosity and inability to explain what the sun was or why the faces of the moon changed. Now a couple of thousands of years later, we go from trying to explain our origins and our path after life through stories to criticizing,isolating, condemning and even killing our own kind. It's rediculous people!! WE WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO PROOF WHO FOLLOWS THE "RIGHT" RELIGION!!!!! and that's because there is NO RIGHT RELIGION. RELIGION = FAIRYTALE. But the problem is not just religion. It's US ( humanity). When you add the human variable into the equation you get the recipe for our own undoing.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  4. Bob

    I can't wait to vote this guy out of office.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  5. krk28

    Why on earth would anyone think Barack Barry Hussein Soebarkah Soetoro Obama is a Muslim? You have to wonder where these things come from. (end sarcasm)

    August 19, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  6. chris

    no he's the anti-christ so he's neither!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  7. Sara

    Another story CNN is beating to dead. Different headlines, same story. But we keep commenting like it was a new story.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  8. midwestmatt

    Then one fifth of our country are idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  9. Robert

    Here's the deal: If you are unable to correctly identify a person's position (anyone, not just Obama) because you choose to believe what other people tell you rather than educate yourself, then your opinion no longer matters. That 1 in 5 no longer has a say. Sorry guys, you're voted off. We have to continue on without you.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  10. AndersonJ

    As a side comment on this mosque issue, the land is privately owned and the President HAS to support their right to build on it, just like he would have to for any other American or group of Americans. Building a place of worship on privately owned land is not illegal, and to prevent a group from doing so just because of their religious beliefs would be unconstitutional.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  11. Brett Favre

    Even if he was Muslim, which he is not, why would that matter? CNN hayseed readers think it matters where you were born, what relgion you are, and what your name is.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  12. bill

    Watch the ending of "who shot liberty valance" staring john wayne and jimmy stewart.
    it talks about how a rumor becomes true
    "when the kegend becomes fact, print the legend"

    August 19, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  13. MobTown

    Let's pretend that he is Muslim... Let's say that none of this current turmoil with Muslims was occurring, would it matter?

    And I say yes. How many Catholics have been President? 1, JFK. We've had as many Catholic presidents as Jehovah's Witness presidents.

    I would question why his religion has anything to do with his politics. You don't go through the stress of election, baring all of your personal history, so that you can destroy a country from the inside. Before any of these wackos started coming up with these claims, government agencies have scrutinized his background, and if he were Muslim, we would have already known.

    The funny thing is that internet rumors are taken as truth, so any idiot with a keyboard and blogspot site can make claims and pass them off as truth.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  14. cruddycat

    If it clucks like a chicken, looks like a chicken and lays eggs like a chicken, IT IS A CHICKEN!!!

    Obama may say he is not a Muslim but all that he does shows that he wishes to favor them at the expense of Christians. You can close down schools for Muslim religious holidays, even when Muslims are a minority in the school population, but you can't wear a Jesus shirt to school. You can't read a Bible in school, but you give in to the demands of Muslim parents that want special treatment for their children involved in sports.

    Obama loves getting on his knees and kissing the big, brown, hairy backside of Muslims and especially Muslim terrorist.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:30 am |
    • MobTown

      Isn't Christmas a "religious" holiday? Kids get off 2 weeks for Christmas. You know that whole birth of Jesus thing.

      Or did you know that Christmas wasn't just about Santa?

      August 19, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  15. al

    so what if he is a muslim, whats the big deal i thought the US had 'freedom of religon'. With bigots like pamela geller getting so much air time on us news, (specialy foxnews) you wonder why americans are so hated around the world. By her logic malcom X and mohammad ali (the greatest boxer ever) are terrorist. The current building has been used as a communtiy centre for 27yrs whats the big deal if they want to rebuild a new building. As for where is the money coming from, who cares, the peope incharge are under the microscope with what there doing everyday, so i dont think any extremist would be stupid enough to do anything there. Im so sick of the muslim bashing in media i see every day you wonder why people like faisal shazad lose the plot and try to blow up people. Im sure if everytime you turn on the tv and told you and your race and religon is bad and that your a terrorist anyone would lose the plot after a while. with CNNs insight in to muslims and the mid east is doing a great service for people trying to get young youth away from extreamists.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  16. Rob

    I didn't need a poll to know that 1 in 5 Americans are dumber than a rock. Thanks anyways CNN.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  17. CommonSensei

    Correct me if I'm wrong...but it seems to me Obama was clear when he stated that he supported the mosque only because it is in Muslims' rights to express religion wherever they want, and NOT because he himself a Muslim. In fact, Obama even stated that he thought the concept of putting a mosque at Ground Zero was insensitive, but since the Constitution affords them the right he has to stand by it. I don't much like the idea of a mosque there either, but it seems to me that he's exactly right on that damned Constitution applying to everyone...if we don't want activist judges on the courts interpreting the Constitution, how can you hypocritically fault the president for refusing to do the same?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  18. Johann

    1st, I refuse to believe that 20% of all Americans are this m0ronic.
    2nd...not all of us believe that in order to get through the gates of heaven, we need to wear our religion like a patch...or for that matter, an armband.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  19. AndersonJ

    This issue should not even be an issue. What does it matter if the President is a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, or even an Atheist? Our country supports the freedom of religion or lack thereof, and that applies to all people, including the President. Whether or not he or she does a decent job as President has nothing to do with religion and it should never be a factor during the election or an issue during the presidency. Shame on CNN and the American media in general for opening up this issue and fanning the flames of hatred. All of the uncultured, ill-educated, ignorant people posting here and residing throughout America really need to mind their own business and focus on the things that really matter.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  20. Rob

    I give up. After almost 2 years the fact that this garbage is still out there speaks more loudly to the Dems' incompetent leadership and messaging than it does to the willful ignorance and shear idiocy of the GOP and tea-baggers. There are certain things that are open to debate and public opinion: Are things getting better or worse? Free market or regulated capitalism? Unilateral sanctions or multilateral diplomacy? The president's faith, nationality, and citizenship are matters of fact and, as such, are NOT OPEN TO DEBATE!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • Axlotl

      @Rob

      I'd second that motion...but there is no debate. Just a bunch of people running around doing silly things. Where's the debate?

      August 19, 2010 at 9:55 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.