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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. powerplay

    Our Prez is black? eat your hearts out rednecks.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:10 am |
    • jon

      with a 39% approval rating we are laughing-we do nothing and he puts his BIG FAT mouth to work. That is all that is needed.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  2. Larry W

    The dollar bill should be changed from "In God We Trust" to "Nitwit Nation"

    August 19, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  3. Tim

    1 in 5 are liberal.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  4. Jason

    1 in 5 is also an idiot.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:09 am |
    • Tim

      Jason, You mean 1 in 5 are idiots. Right?

      August 19, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  5. raiden

    cmon guys this is foxnews.com ... oh... wait...

    August 19, 2010 at 11:09 am |
  6. Charles Alexander- Houston

    20% is on the low side. It is probably closer to 50%(45% don't pay taxes and like the free ride). Obama is a Muslim, a radical and someday it will be proven he was born outside the U.S., probably in Kenya. No one spends $1,000,000 + to have their records sealed unless they have someting to hide.

    Obama's position on building a Mosque near Ground Zero will prove to be the begining of the end for him.

    WAKE UP AMERICA

    August 19, 2010 at 11:09 am |
  7. stevie68a

    Why is it that modern "christians" are more capable of creating hell on earth, rather than heaven? Religion cloaks itself in love,
    but is all hate underneath. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
    Time to question all the nonsense forced on us as children, of course it doesn't hold up.
    Should we start with talking snakes? How about talking burning bushes. Could we include a talking cat for fun?

    August 19, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  8. powerplay

    All frustrated white people need to get over themselves. Obama was elected by the people.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  9. Yvette

    Obama approves the mosque because...he's Muslim. He has said it before in interviews, there's pictures of him dressed in Muslim attire and he bowed down like an obedient puppy to the king of Saudi. Why is anybody suprised? He refuses to wear the American pin on his apparel and he didn't have his hand over his heart when he was sworn in to protect us. He's bending over backwards for the Global Muslim community all the while giving the rest of the American people the finger. Let's vote for him again...

    August 19, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  10. Amy, FL

    I think he must be atheist after seeing all the stupidity people say and believe when they follow a religion.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:07 am |
  11. mAKOM

    Obama is a Muslim. His actions confirm this. When he claimed he was a Christian during the election and tapes were later made public that showed Obama speaking to a Muslim group and stating' that he was raised a Muslim; was educated as a Muslim; and that he is still a Muslim– people said it didn't matter.
When people found out that Barrack Hussein Obama was enrolled as a Muslim child in school and his father and stepfather were both Muslims, people said it didn't matter.
When he wrote in another book he authored "I will stand with them (Muslims) should the political winds shift in an ugly direction," people said it didn't matter.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:07 am |
  12. SanityisLostHere

    Oh yeah???? And JFK was a Catholic. . . .*gasp* We have separation from church and state in this country for a reason. I could care less what religion my president follows as long as his actions are in the best interests of my country. This country was formed based on freedom of religion. If you don't like it. . .you are more than welcome to go elsewhere. For those of you that want to bring abortion and gay marriage into this, you'd be best served by minding your own business. What gay couples choose to do behind their closed doors, is for them alone. By fighting it, you only serve to bring it to the forefront where it will be endlessly shoved in your face. As far as abortion, as long as no one is forcing YOU to have one. . .why do you care? Are they performing them on your front porch? Or in your bedroom? No!!! Mind your own business and move on with your life. Your beliefs are yours. . .allow others the same courtesy and let them have theirs.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  13. dismayed in VA

    So, 1 in 5 Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim and only 1 in 3 know his religion? It is not surprising. More than 70% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Sarah Palin (CNN/Gallup poll 7/17). Americans are led by their emotions. If they took a long, critical look at the the world, the nation, and themselves, they would find there is little sense in the many things politicians, the media and their religious leader's say. To all Americans – Stop, read, learn, think and then voice your opinion. Do not repeat the mindless babblings of the fame-hungry and power-hungry.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  14. T

    More proof this country is full of utter morons.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:06 am |
    • Tim

      I disagree. 4/5 is not defined as full. You mean almost full.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  15. religion=death

    Here's hoping the next president is an avowed atheist who doesn't believe in fairy tales about a mythical invisible being.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  16. J.A. Messenger

    I was following a really sad story about a Muslim girl who converted to Christianity and the amazing struggle she had to endure as a result. While following this story, I was introduced to an interesting concept in which I was unaware. That concept is known as TAQIYYA.

    Taqiyya is a practice of deception used by Muslims to protect themselves and to protect the ongoing purpose, or ideology. From Wikipedia: “taqiyya has two aspects: to conceal their association with the Imams when revealing it would result in danger, and protecting the esoteric teachings of the Imams from those who lack the capacity to grasp them.”

    So, in a sense, if one were in a political position and wanted to hide his or her association from said religion, it is considered appropriate to actually be deceptive to those outside the faith, and otherwise if necessary.

    With that, if I were a Muslim and I wanted to gain political favor from the Christian subgroups in society, all I would have to do is lie and say I were a Christian. As far as my Muslim faith goes, lying is okay, as long as it supports the ongoing mission, or ideology.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  17. Ken in Maryland

    And we're supposed to follow the "wisdom" of public opinion polls when 1 out of 5 Americans are that ignorant? Or else they only get their news from ClusterFOX.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  18. Evan

    I dont care what religion he is, but I cannot support a president who
    – Apologizes to other countries for the US
    – Harbors enemy combatants with Miranda Rights
    – Makes the government my mommy with a forced healthcare plan

    Should I go on...?

    August 19, 2010 at 11:04 am |
    • Evanisclueless

      @Evan

      no

      August 19, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  19. Judy

    Amazing that 20% of this country is that ignorant.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:03 am |
  20. iShane

    It's too bad we have to consider him either by way of actually mattering to people.

    It's also pretty odd that one of the largest segments of the population is completlty void of any vocal representation in the matter.

    Black Americans equate to 13% of the population....loud voice of representation for their causes
    Muslims .5% ....looks like a loud voice for their cause (lately)
    Jewish 1.3% ......heh, enough said about the loudness of their voice.
    Americans non-Affiliated with any religion 16% and climbing.......crickets...

    16% and climbing, better hope they don't gather a voice for their cause......

    August 19, 2010 at 11:01 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.