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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. Iva

    Because Americans are still ignorants...and xenophobes...this is all because of the anti-muslim propaganda.
    PS: I am a Christian.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  2. JimmyD

    This survey and the recent suvey reporting that a substantial number of Americans believe President Obama was not born in the U.S. both prove a point: a significant percentage of the population believe whatever Rush, Glen, et al. say; facts be damned! Just repeat a baseless claim over and over at it eventually becomes true in the minds of many. If you don't like Obama's policies by all means speak your mind. That's what democracy is all about. Just quit with your crazy "Muslim" or "Kenyan" claims. The late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said it best: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."

    August 19, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  3. Anothr view from the north

    |America, you are becoming the laughingstock of the world with your "polls" designed to inflame and feed paranoia. You can "talk the talk" but sure aren't "walking the walk" of your much-vaunted "value system". The mere fact that a hateful, hate-filled person like Sarah Palin is becoming America's spokeswoman, speaks volumes.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:01 am |
    • SanityisLostHere

      All if have to say is that if Sarah Palin becomes the president of this country. . . .can I come to Canada?? I have no desire to see her ruin everything. My 6 year old knows more about the history of this country than she does and would probably do better with foreign relations.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  4. Noor Amin

    It doesn't matter that what's his religion. All that matters is that we have a good president who is sincere to our nation.. thats the only thing that matters

    August 19, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  5. Stephen Kovalic

    He is Muslim. He used his middle name (Hussein) when he took the oath of office for President of United States of America. Im not wrong on this issue. You can't use his middle name if not muslim.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  6. Merl

    1 in 5, that about how many people listen to Beck...sounds about right, stupid is as stupid does...

    August 19, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  7. America - Home of the Stupid

    This article is unsurprising, since the American masses are intentionally kept as ignorant as possible by the powers-that-be. That is how they obtain and keep their power: by playing to the interests (fears) of the stupid, gullible voters who are unable to think for themselves. Regardless, I find it hilarious that 95% of the world's population believes in an invisible man that has more in common with Santa Claus than anything remotely rooted in reality. Face it, losers: THERE IS NO GOD. You die and you rot. Period. I'm done; you may now resume the killing in the name of your deity.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  8. Scott

    5 out of 4 Americans do fractions. Who the F cares what religion he is. If you voted for him based on his religious belief, than you are a moron. Religion should have no baring on who you vote for. Or did we all forget the seperation of church and state thing. He's a rotten president. A unmitigated liar, like every other pres. before him. I'm ashamed I voted for him, cause now I feel partially responsible for the country's down turn. As for the mosque nonsense. Are the Muslims entitled to build, sure, this country provides freedom of religion. However, out of respect to New Yorkers as a whole, not Jews, not Christians, not any religious sect, the mosque should be built elsewhere. Do you think the muslim community would feel the same if Israel decided to launch a missile strike against the Dome of the Rock and then as a show of healing and compassion built a synagogue being built two blocks away. I think not.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  9. RightTurnClyde

    He's Muslim. Went to the madrasa school .. makes fun of the Bible; calls Christians terrorists. What does that tell ya? Muslims sold blacks into slavery and Christians fought and died to free them. Dumb for blacks to be Muslim. He's the antichrist. Fits the bill to a T! Read Revelations ... read Daniel. That's him. Ask Obama - in between bowing to Saudi kings and kissing Muslim premiers. Camel jockey; he'd walk a mile for a camel

    August 19, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  10. SammyZ

    Why does it take a foreigner to be the sole voice of reason?

    Thank you Manny.

    As an American, it shames and saddens me how stupid our society really is.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  11. Vik

    this poll proves that these 1 in 5 Americans are idiots

    August 19, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • Tim

      1 in 5 Americans are Liberal. 🙂

      August 19, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  12. Bill

    The one in five are Republican they always cry about something

    August 19, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  13. stevie68a

    Religion is trickery, superstition, and shame. " Prophet" means "Profit".They collect you with the bottom of your feet, your "soles".
    Whatever good there is in religion, can be had without it. Teach children ethics. jesus is imaginary. Grow up!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  14. Sam

    We are not even sure he is a citizen (ha,ha).... let alone his religion....I suspect like all politicians, he attends the church of the almighty "Pollster"

    August 19, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  15. Ed Betters

    Unfortunately, 1 in 5 Americans seem to be idiots these days. These are the same jerk-O's that think that a mosque near ground zero means terrorists have won something. Oh man...

    August 19, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  16. Tinkers Dam

    ......and 6 of 10 think he's an idiot and a lousy president.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  17. Robert

    Athiests don't care. They realize their are more important things to worry about than where someone goes to church.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:55 am |
  18. Joe from Ohio

    This just in: 1 in 5 Americans are ignorant inbreds.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:54 am |
  19. George Polak

    Those one in five all have one tooth, live in a trailer park and need to make an appointment with their proctologist.

    Get a life people.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:54 am |
  20. Dewey

    What part of no don't these people understand? I think it is wishful thinking on their part that they say or believe Obama to be a Muslim. Just goes to show how much damage can result from a few untruths being told and the GOP is tops when it comes to that and their Karl Rove swiftboat tactics. If you believe me to be wrong about that than their are a lot of stupid and ignorant people around if it is 1 in 5!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:54 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.