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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. Jim

    Hahahaha this is hilarious, such a waste of time

    August 19, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  2. Terry from West Texas

    And one in four Republicans think that Obama is the Antichrist.

    The problem with democracy is that half of the voters have a below average IQ. If you think Obama is Muslim, you have a below average IQ. If you think Obama is the Antichrist, you have a below average IQ. If you think Obama is a socialist, you have a below average IQ. If you think Republicans in the Senate and the House care about your happiness and prosperity, you have a below average IQ.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:17 am |
    • johncc

      Gosh, Terry...I didn't know people like you were allowed to live in Texas! Now I'm not so concerned about my planned visit there in a couple of months.

      August 19, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  3. Pat

    Did you know there is a Catholic church about a block from the Alfred P Murrow building in Oklahoma City? Timothy McVeigh was raised Catholic. Obviously then there must be a connection, right? How dare they have a Catholic church so close to where a horrible terrorist attack by a Catholic took place! Sound ridiculous? That's because it is. Same with the Ground Zero "mosque" that's actually a community center that will have a prayer room, and is actually 2.5 blocks away.

    Obama's not a Muslim, by the way. His father practiced Islam for a while, but left it. He's got a Muslim sounding name, but he's not. Eddie Murphy's got an Irish name, and I'm pretty sure he's not Irish.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  4. Stuart

    The fact that the 'i don't know about Obama's religion' numbers went up, just proves that many people voted for him w/out knowing anything about him.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  5. Tommy

    Obama kind of reminds me of a Muslim version of Kevin Costner's character in "No Way Out."

    August 19, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  6. muzak

    One in five are un-American and idiots. One in five are republican. Go figure.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  7. Steven

    I would like to say that this is just more fear mongering but I it scares me to think that Americans actually feel this way. Shameful is just one of the nicer words I can come up with to characterize the 1/3rd and 1/5th. I am sure this has nothing to do with the color of his skin. No one questioned Bush's religion.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  8. Canadian

    The real terrorist is G.W.B! how many Americans and Iraqi's has he killed so far?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  9. Jill

    And what if he IS Muslim? Isn't this a country founded on freedom of religion? Since when do the extreme actions of a few (like the 9/11 perps) reflect the actions and beliefs of the masses?

    I didn't realize it was a requirement for our President to be Christian. This country is so messed up in choosing certain groups to dislike for various reasons. Most Muslim people do not support what happened on 9/11 and those living in America have suffered a lot in the last 9 years because the rest of us have put them in the same category as murderers. Most Muslim people are good and peaceful and just want to practice their beliefs, same as any Christian or Jewish person or whatever other religions. Plenty of awful crimes have been committed by Christians, too. I find this whole debate kind of disgusting.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:10 am |
    • Tommy

      Well, if he is Muslim, it would certainly show some troubling dishonesty.

      August 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  10. datyl

    i think d way cnn ask that question in itself dividing d country. we got to move on fr this. what cnn should do is ask how many muslim is overseas fighting for us and keeping us safe i would like to know that number. and tell them that they could only build in certain pl to worship because this is about muslim nothing elese. poor questioning cnn keep this up and im going to stop watch your program.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  11. BrainFever

    Its all CNN play of words. How about 4 out of 5 people believes Obama is a Christian.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  12. James

    Seriously, what are the point of facts anymore?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  13. Yanna

    I LOVE YOU PRESIDENT OBAMA!!! ROCK ON AND KEEP IT GOING!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  14. nitrous

    Now you know why religion sucks. All it causes is problems. BTW – there is no god so what's the difference?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  15. Yanna

    And this matters why?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  16. MEW

    It just shows the staggering level of ignorance in this country! This goes along with the (alleged) millions of people who think that Palin is worth listening to and following rather than just being branded an ignorant idiot! And, although it is off-topic, I'd like to point out that President Obama DID NOT SAY HE WAS PRO-MOSQUE! HE SIMPLY STATED THAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO HAVE FREEDOM OF RELIGION IS THIS COUNTRY (not freedom to be a Christian)! Our nation has achieved what the Republicans have been after for years – a country full of ignorant fools that will vote Republicans into power even though these same Republicans stand for nothing more than tyranny of the rich and powerful over the common man! Disgusting!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  17. Raina

    Seriously, who gives a crap what religion he is? It doesn't affect my sleep at night, I don't earn extra money for knowledge of his religion, and he isn't going to be impeached and thrown into hell for whatever it is he chooses as his religion. People stop scrutinizing this man and his personal beliefs. Try this for a headline, "The President is confused over why so many Americans are lazy, uneducated and useless to society."

    August 19, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  18. JDonald

    The posting of such polls just shows how ignorant Americans are. The country has become a bastian of uneducated persons who don't care about anyone but themselves. And those in the country who do know the truth want to keep it just this way so that they can manipulate the masses. The New Republicanism equates to stupidity.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  19. Eric

    Pretty funny to read the comments. Clearly a few Fake News enthusiasts have gotten lost and don't realize their conspiracies will be questioned outside of Alice's wonderland house. Last I checked, Christians are supposed to let God be in judgement, not them. Funny how many though insist he is Muslim, when there is only evidence to the fact he is Christian. Maybe their particular brand of religeon has endowed them with miraculous heart reading powers – they are themselves God. Hypocrites.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  20. Clearick

    Interesting title considering that 1/3 of Americans think he's a Chirstian, when a mere 20% (1 in 5) thinks he's a Muslim. That means more people think he isn't a Muslim, and that 20% of the people you polled are ignorant and uninformed by the truth. Considering they read CNN, that isn't surprising, since your title shows a real disconnect with your facts!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:05 am |
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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.