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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. Arghhh

    Oh my god...what next? 25% of Americans think Obama is a loggerhead sea turtle? 25% of Americans think Obama is a tea cozy? 25 percent of Americans think Obama is a waffle iron? Shame on all these news casters for not taking on this silliness and devoting air time to debunking it. Of course it would all just be denounced as part of some imagined conspiracy. The republican party is still seething about losing.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:58 am |
    • E

      Thanks for the laugh – I couldn't agree more.

      August 19, 2010 at 2:05 am |
    • wat

      Obama is a sea turtle? Are they sure? ZOMG! The GOP was right all along!

      August 19, 2010 at 2:35 am |
    • Shannon

      Post of the day. Hilarious.

      August 19, 2010 at 10:28 am |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      huh. First black tea cozy I've ever seen. ]:>

      August 19, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  2. thunder1road

    The right wing Roman establishment crucified Jesus because he fed the poor and threw the moneylenders out of the temple. And now history is repeating as the right wing attempts to crucify Obama for trying to feed the poor and throw the moneylenders (Citibank, AIG, Goldman Sachs, etc.) out. Jesus was lucky. He didn't have to go up against BP and Exxon. And by the way, all good Christians are aware that Jesus and Obama are dark skinned and of African lineage.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:58 am |
    • steverinski

      No - Jesus was not crucified because he fed the poor. He was crucified because he challenged the stability of the governing powers, by claiming to be God (e.g., when speaking to Pilate, by telling one of the people whom He healed that his sins were forgiven). The political establishment was afraid of a political uprising that would be led by someone claiming to be the Messiah, and killing Jesus was nipping this in the bud.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  3. Rich

    Muslim smslum what does it metter, CNN is just trying to continue the be afraid mission. Has anyone else noted that on the day that the last US combat troops leave Irac (big day right) but not a single story on any of CNN Web pages. To bad media can't hold it's own feet to the fire like they do with the President. It's a shame. Not the best thing for a democracy.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:57 am |
  4. GrumpyBearDC

    Well, there's the number for you. 2/3 are dumb in America, only 1/3 knows the religion of our president. How didn't we declare war on Switzerland by popular vote, is beyond me.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:57 am |
  5. Chris

    God us Americans are stupid. We honestly don't deserve to be considered a superpower.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:56 am |
    • Maureen

      Chris hasn't anyone told you that the US is not recognized as a "Super Power" just a laughing stock.
      Your President is the best thing that has happened to you in decades and you rednecks just don't get it.
      You are pathetic. Obama is too good for America.!!

      August 19, 2010 at 2:06 am |
    • Chris

      Sadly, agreed. Pardon me for being so naive, I spend my time between San Francisco, Manhattan, and Denver so I'm not what you'd call up to date on rural America. I guess that's why I find this news so shocking/depressing...

      August 19, 2010 at 2:11 am |
  6. Lee Oates

    Well, 20% is about right. That means that 80% have a brain.....and that's being optimistic.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:54 am |
  7. PDXSerric

    WHO CARES if he is Christian or not? America is not, nor has it ever been, a Christian Nation. If anything, we're a Deist nation. Why does the prez have to be Christian? Why not Jewish? Or Buddhist? Or, yes, even Muslim? (which he's not)

    August 19, 2010 at 1:53 am |
  8. Beverly Tatum

    Why is CNN bringing up the ridiculous hate message John McCain used in his dishonorable campaign in 2008? President Obama was raised a Christian and his religion and his personal beliefs are his own. How convenient you bring this stupid story up just when Republicans are fear-mongering over the Islamic Community Center in NY. I am sure the "birhers" are going nuts screaming he is a Muslim again because he is upholding his oath to protect and defend the Constitution.
    This is a non-story that needs to stop being hyped by the media.
    President Obama did his job to speak up in protection of the Constitution. New York officials voted to let the Center be built. Story over. Republicans are fear-mongering and committing treason against our Constitution by tryiing to use it as a hate weapon against Hispanics and Muslims. None of them should be allowed back into Congress. They have broken their oath to protect the Constitution and can no longer be trusted to do what what is best for our country. No patriotic American should cast a single vote for a Republican. They are dangerous to America,

    August 19, 2010 at 1:53 am |
  9. freepalestine

    naw he's jewish!

    August 19, 2010 at 1:52 am |
  10. atheist

    Who cares? He's still a socialist!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 1:52 am |
  11. Tom

    honestly, who cares? religious views dont reflect on how good of a person someone is. get over it america!

    August 19, 2010 at 1:51 am |
  12. MarcNJ

    umm, 1/5 is less than 1/3

    August 19, 2010 at 1:51 am |
  13. WHATALOAD

    the right wing lunatic fringe accounts for about 23% of this country, yet they are constantly trying to railroad the issues. In the meantime, we get so far off the beam that nothing gets done. Big business and the loony right run the Republican Party today. GOP candidates are so scared of offending the rightwingers that they all tow the same worn out crap that has put us in this place to begin with. The party knows they cant argue the issues logically (after all, most of them were right with Bush in creating them) so now they beat this steady drumbeat of BS.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:51 am |
  14. thunder1road

    Another proof that there is no shortage of America's most abundant natural resource .......

    stupidity

    August 19, 2010 at 1:49 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      Speaking of natural resources, I think we Americans have more guns than we have stupidity.

      August 19, 2010 at 5:44 am |
  15. Joe Nunya

    CNN: 85% of poll readers posted poor performance pertaining to your poll pertinence. 85% dont seem to give a crap. Keep up this kind of "Fox-ish" drivel, and you will retain a whopping 15% of your readers. Thanks for allowing me to kill 12 minutes of my life. Switching to the BBC now. Nite

    August 19, 2010 at 1:48 am |
    • JK Smalley

      Well said! I totally agree!

      August 20, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  16. geeg88

    Why is it important to determine whether Obama is a Christian? It's important because he claims to be a Christian. It speaks to his character. If he's not a Christian, and nobody who sat in "Reverend Wright's" church for 20 years could possibly be a Christian, then he is a liar, a charlatan. Wright preached a false gospel that had NOTHING to do with the Gospel as presented in the Bible. Wright is not a Christian, nor is Obama. Obama's dishonest nature is a major character flaw. That's why this whole topic is important.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:47 am |
    • Lee Oates

      That's a stupid conclusion. You obviously belong to the 20% on right wing loonies.

      August 19, 2010 at 1:58 am |
    • CTYank

      You forgot "in my humble opinion" in your rush to some really fractured logic.
      IMHO you're off the mark on many levels, and should learn to get over your wonderfulness.

      August 19, 2010 at 3:47 am |
  17. scott p

    Obama always says that he's a christian. Who cares, Bush was 250% christian and he destroyed the economy and had the army kill 100,000's of muslims to get at their oil.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:44 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      after seeing what a mess christian Bush made of the country. the democrats decided to hire a muslim to run the country instead. to tap into some christian votes, they made up a lie that their candidate is not a muslim but a christian.

      August 19, 2010 at 5:42 am |
    • Sav

      HE ONLY SAID HE WAS A CHRISTIAN, JUST SO HE CAN SUCK EVERYONE INTO VOTING FOR HIM ... SERIOUSLY ANYONE WITH THE NAME HUSSEIN IN IT, ISN'T A CHRISTIAN.
      THAT IS HOW DUMB AMERICA IS. 40% OF AMERICANS DON'T EVEN KNOW WHEN THE WORLD TRADE CENTRE WAS BOMBED! IT'S LIKE WHAT DA?

      August 19, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  18. dw4yne

    Hidden you just made me puke in my mouth. You are the definition of an extremist. Live your life and forget about that stupid little make believe book you read.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:42 am |
  19. CM

    There are many things that a majority of the people have been getting wrong! For almost five years a majority of the Americans thought Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11! Most people don't know enough about preventive health matters even though information seemingly has been presented to everyone through the medium of television, radio, internet, etc! So it's not surprising that most people don't think Obama is Christian. People have proven to be pretty dull upstairs!!

    August 19, 2010 at 1:42 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      it may just have something to do with the amount of beef Americans eat.

      August 19, 2010 at 5:39 am |
    • MAL

      True, I remember when bush was flown to the mission accomplished carrier on a combat jet, many inaccurately believed that bush flew and landed the plane himself.

      Saw another report on this story, most of the people who believe he is Muslim are republicans. When Democrats were asked if President Obama was Muslim, 0% said yes.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  20. Barry Soetoro

    It is time for a bit of truth from our good buddy Barry. He actively studied Islam in Indonesia as a child and has yet to produce a valid birth certificate for the United States. His school records, medical records, citizenship investigation, were all sealed the day he took the oath of office. time to wake up people. Obama is a fraud.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:39 am |
    • Peter

      Does anyone with even a tenth of a brain actually think that one of the two major political parties in this country would, after losing two presidential elections in a row, actually pin all of its hopes on a man whom they did not thoroughly vet? Seriously.

      If you don't like Obama's policies, then say you don't like his policies, but we're almost two years into his first term. It's time to wake up and smell the coffee. Get over the fact that we have a president who: 1) is African-American, and 2) actually has a brain.

      You and the rest of the birthers are acting like a bunch of spoiled children. My six-year-old daughter has more sense.

      Or maybe I answered my own question in the first sentence–a tenth of a brain.

      August 19, 2010 at 1:53 am |
    • Rainder Goyal

      your logic is twisted. Looks like you are one of the 20% right winger ultra members of the Tea Party headed by that brainless woman, Palin. God bless you.

      August 19, 2010 at 2:01 am |
    • E

      Peter's comment is right on. Use some common sense, people. And, Peter, you can't convince mindless, deluded, people like this that they are wrong, but it could only get worse if we stop trying. Keep it up.

      August 19, 2010 at 2:03 am |
    • i, Jimbot

      If you continue to spread lies, it makes you a liar. That is what you are. Obama has clearly shown his birth certificate to multiple members of the media (including Fox News), to both parties, and to just about anyone that matters. The simple fact that he's not knocked on your door and shown it to you doesn't matter. Then again, you appear ignorant enough to not believe him even if you saw it in person!

      August 19, 2010 at 2:04 am |
    • Bill

      i, Jimbot...While I believe Obama was born in the US, your statement that he has shown his "birth certificate" is incorrect. He has shown a copy of a "Certificate of Live Birth" which is different that an actual birth certificate. No matter though, a doctor for the governor has seen the actual document, there was a birth annoucement in the paper in Hawaii and even one of his teachers remembers speaking of his birth with his Dr. But you still should not call someone a liar and then make a false statement yourself.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:37 am |
    • Chris R

      His mother was an American citizen and therefore he is also an American citizen. It doesn't matter where he was born – at all.

      For persons born between December 24, 1952 and November 14, 1986, a person is a U.S. citizen if all of the following are true:
      1. One of the person's parents was a U.S. citizen when the person in question was born
      2. The citizen parent lived at least ten years in the United States before the child's birth;
      3. A minimum of 5 of these 10 years in the United States were after the citizen parent's 14th birthday.

      Being that there are no records of her taking up residence outside of the country prior to Obama's birth in 1961 he is, regardless of where he was actually born, an American citizen and qualified to be president of the United States. You obviously overlooked that citizenship is gained by BOTH jus soli *AND* jus sanguinis.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      I can't help feeling that certain people feel any touch of Islam is too much. Like people once thought even a drop of black blood made you black.

      Did Obama live in the Philippines? Yup. So? People can go to Catholic School and not grow up Catholic.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
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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.