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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. Michael

    All this "poll" really says is that there are a lot of people who are dumber than a box of rocks. And it also is pathetic in that it DOES NOT MATTER what religion any President follows. I thought most of the people who trashed John Kennedy because he was Catholic were dead and gone but apparently they had offspring and now those xenophobes are worried about the boogey man du jour.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  2. Barriah

    Who took this survey? Faux Snooze. It's humiliating that means one in five Americans are either crazy or stupid. No way around it. If you can not figure out the religion of your Commander In Chief by simply looking at the church he has attended for years and attends now and figure out what his religion is your Crazy with a capitol C. Or it could also be that 1 in 5 Americans are racist because that would support their desire to support anything that would make him less presidential than any preceding president as we all know racist thrive on lies that could be the reason as well. Whatever the reason the rest of the world is a good laugh at how either stupid, racist or crazy 20% of our population is.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  3. Seattle

    Who cares if only 1 in 3 can guess his religion, you shouldn't give a flying @#$%&*^! RELIGION has no place in GOVERNMENT and crazy neo-cons keep wanting to make it all about it.
    I swear that 1 in 4 Americans have their heads up their butts!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  4. nick

    LETS SEE ATTENDS CHRISTIAN CHURCH FOR 17 YEARS. MARRIES A CHRISTIAN, NAMES HIS CHILDREN CHRISTIAN NAMES. EATS PORK, DRINKS BEER, DOESNT FAST DURING RAMADAN. LOOKS LIKE A MUSLIM TO ME.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  5. robert Doug Schrecengost

    Barak OBama is not a Muslim. BS runs deep everywhere. Whomever started this is BSing purposely to invalidate the President. Polls? LOL! This poll is obviously BS. What could a motive be here? Anything to bring a good honest President down. Anyone who falls for this is a dope. So many Americans do not take the time out to vote, let alone exercise critical thinking. We can start a new rumor today! How about this one: Barak OBama is from another planet, sent here to mess things up to facillitate a forthcoming alien invasion! I like that one. Capt. Kirk can recuse us.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  6. Sarto - Boston

    This is all completely ridiculous. The founding fathers, many of whom reviled religion, specifically wrote separation of church and state into the constitution. The public's unwillingness to support this aspect of the constitution is amazing. Our President shouldn't have to define what hsi religion is. It shouldn't matter. The fact is, he's stated he's Christian. Even if he stated he was Muslim, that should not matter. We're a country founded on a principal of freedom and equality for all, regardless of religion. The first settlers started this country to escape religious persecution. Some of us have no relgious affiliation at all. I applaud the president's stance of keeping the religious discourse within government at levels much, much lower than what has been practiced in the past. I think anyone that claims to love America and supports our constitution should go back to school to re-learn what the bill of rights and all of the ammendments actually mean.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  7. nick

    LETS SEE ATTENDS CHRISTIAN CHURCH FOR 17 YEARS. MARRIES A CHRISTIAN, NAMES HIS CHILDREN CHRISTIAN NAMES. EATS PORK, DRINKS BEER, DOESNT FAST DURING RAMADAN. LOOKS LIKE A MUSLIM TO ME. YOU IDIOTS.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  8. Chowman

    Why should this be so surprising? 2 in 5 Americans believe that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time – shocking!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  9. Bill

    Poll: 1 out of 5 Americans thinks the religion of the president matters. Also, 1 out of 5 Americans is a right-wing nut job. Coincidence? I think not!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  10. Sasha

    I don't care if Obama dances in a circle and worships the sun. Religion has no place in government. Who cares what he is. SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE.....Did everyone forget about this wonderful diddy that is most important of all.....Sure I think the people who want the mosque should take into consideration what has happened at that site....Sure, I think they should listen to the voices of those who oppose.....Sure, I think it is in poor taste to put it there....But this is America guys!!!!....And in America people of religion, (whom I think are nuts anyway), doesn't matter what religion, have the right to build a place of worship. All you wacky God freaks are hypocrites anyway....You all do the exact opposite of what should be done.....you all hate others....you all lie, cheat, steal, and want to kill one another.....and most important you all judge others.....so, go pray some more....you're gonna need it!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  11. jon

    Saddam and Osama put the Obama mole in action years ago and now they have a Muslim President doing their work. I can't wait for the towers to go up for prayer in NY, LA and all major cities. Nice to have the enemy running the government.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  12. Bea

    President Obama is not a Muslim. Frankly I don't care about what are his believes concerning God. It's not my business. His job is in the secular world. I am very proud to live in a country that allows freedom of religions. I think a lot of American take this fact for granted.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  13. Ben

    As to whether he is a Christisn, what was the poll questions leading to that one and how was it couched. I know a lot of people who say "I am a Christian...but I don't believe even in the fundamental teachings of Christianity." They are not.

    I am a self-described Democrat, but I am pro life, against social programs, pro death penalty, against the Mosque in NYC, think Sara Palin is a genius, think there should be no limits on who can own what kind of gun and want those dirty richies to have more tax breaks...am I really a Democrat???

    August 19, 2010 at 11:25 am |
    • rm

      Ben...you would be a Democrat in 1945, 1930, 1980 or anytime other than now. And you could have been proud of it. Today the party has been overrun with "liberal" extremists – people who are bound to have their own way regardless of the consequences, and who exhibit a deep resentment for the country they live in and anyone who does not think like they do. It's not you that has changed, it's the Democrat party that has been corrupted.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:44 am |
    • couldUBanyDummer

      @Ben

      no. you are a wrinkled scrotum pretending to be a Democrat and probably have no clue as to what I'm talking about.

      Is it any wonder Republicans have an elephant as their symbol? It reminds 'em of their sacks, which they love.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  14. Robert G

    The fact that he is religious at all is sad. Does he believe in the tooth fairy too? This guy is leading one of the most influential countries in the world, and he believes in a fairy tale thousands of years old. LOL. Or.... he is just saying that so you rubes will vote for him, just like every other presidential candidate. Gotta get the sheep to vote for you after all.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  15. Doug

    Well according to the words spoken by every Democrat in America, 46% of African Americans just last night all became racist, Rush Limbaugh listening, bigot teabaggers LOL!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  16. Ken

    I don't care what Religion a president is. It shouldn't matter.

    These people are so shallow that they care the religion of a person... talk about judgmental... or the person that says, "i'm not a racist or a bigot, i have at one black friend"

    August 19, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • rm

      The religion is important because of what it preaches and practices. Islam requires the enslavement or destruction of all "non-believers". So if the president is a Muslim, is he required to do what the Koran teaches?

      August 19, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  17. CTHE3

    Funny how history works. Just a few decades ago some in this country didn't want JFK to be president because he as Catholic and wanted great changes for our society. I guess we keep repeating history.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  18. Andrew Wilmont

    ... who cares if he's Christian, Muslim, or a Gypsy. You voted for him for his policies. Religion has nothing to do with it...

    August 19, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  19. Ben

    The election will hinge on independent voters. Independent voters are strongly leaning Republican. Independent voters's support is like the wind and they do not want to be associated with or labeled "nuts." So, run lots of stories about the Republicans believing Obama is not a citizen or born here or is a muslim and you will at least scare the independents out of voting and at best scare them back to the Dems.

    It is dishonest. It is disgusting and I do not believe that 1 in 5 Americans think Obama is a muslim. The poll was cooked. They are all the time. In my state, our incumbent senator and his opponent are polling neck and neck in the press, but he is going negative, because he know the polls are cooked and he is losing. That's how things are done.

    Lets see a real poll about how many people think the press is honest!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  20. Tim

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMUgNg7aD8M&w=640&h=360]

    August 19, 2010 at 11:21 am |
    • J

      If you can go after GW for all that he said, why not obama. but the fact is. What you are really inside comes out sometimes when you are trying to avoid it.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:33 am |
    • MAL

      Republicans love editing and playing video out of context (GASP!). In this video Obama is talking how the conservative camp is trying to say his "faith is Muslim" during the last Presidential elections, guess they are doing it again, starting early this time.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
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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.