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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. Erich Koehler

    I don't care what religion he is, bottom line, he ahd his illustrious wife Michelle both hate America and everything that makes America unique. He should not be president, and he will go down in history as the very worst president this country ever had.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • MATT

      you Sir, are an idiot. Your thought just made me a dumber human for reading. I know you're an idiot, but I'm trying to figure out by your sentence structure whether you're dyslexic/illiterate or plainly just dim. Never write again, you make us all dumber.

      August 20, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  2. Joe

    Why is this still an issue? Is it because he is Black??? Or are we to beleive that more than half of America is racist? What's next bring back The Jim Crow Laws!

    August 19, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  3. Jeff

    President is a genuine intellectual and I have to believe that any person with a thinking cap on must ask questions about the validity of the religion as something produced by a higher power or mere man. I suspect that most of the intellectuals will have healthcy skeptism of religion and may not wear it on their sleeves unlike the morons that have to have religion as a walking stick for blinds. I hope President is a muslim, at least that religion doesnt have a prepostorous story of woman being impregnated by god to deliver his son – and there are 2 billion who signed up for tis as the central point of christianity.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  4. ltmartin

    Why does it even matter? We have so many problems domestically that it isn't even funny anymore, and yet this is what people choose to focus on? And whatever happened to that whole separation of church and state thing? Did we forget about all of that too?

    August 19, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  5. Michael

    A couple of points:

    1. President Obama did not say he supported a mosque being built in downtown manhattan – he said that he supported the rights of people to practice religion where they so wished, as defined by the constitution.

    2. Anyone who thinks Obama is a Muslim, or not born in the US should stop hiding behind their pointy white hats – I am shocked at the level of vitriol and just sheer nonsense from some people. Maybe they should read more books or watch news other than Fox (I use the terms Fox and news in the loosest possible terms).

    Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of a country that really doesn't understand the concept of proper, reasoned debate. The reporting is soundbite based rather than proper journalism. The experts and guests often resort to idiotic stances which are beyond stupid. In other (more civilized countries?) people like Mr Beck and such like would be marginalized because everyone would see straight through them and therefore they would have no audience (other than people who tuned in for comedic purposes). This is a fantastic country, which unfortunately, due to its continuous isolationist views and frankly idiotic reporting, is becoming a hot bed for radicalization, based on nothing more than hearsay and the illiterate ramblings of so called politicians pumped up by right wing nut jobs. In fact I have a suggestion. To those who think Obama wasn't born in Hawaii and is a Muslim – LEAVE. Go to some other country where you can wear your pointy hats and burn the Koran to your hearts content..... you idiots!

    August 19, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  6. Dave

    God this article really makes me hate people. How does this country function with so many stupid gullible jackasses running around? I mean are people really this stupid or do they just want to believe anything that lines up with their beliefs regardless of the truth? What a bunch of morons. Punch...in...face....

    August 19, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  7. S

    Obama can be a part of whatever religion he wants. What makes people in this country think they have a say in this matter or an opinion. Everyone worry about themselves and stop wasting time worrying about other's you cannot control.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  8. MrHAnson

    I would rather him be an atheist like Joseph Stalin, Mao-Tse-Tung, Pol Pot, Kim-Il-Sung, or Fidel Castro

    August 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  9. HateObama

    I don't care if it's true or not. I'm happy about anything that'll help get him out of office.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  10. astroguy

    no comment per se on this story, except notice how the beginning of the news story incorrectly might mis lead you to think that the fraction 1 out of 5 (portion of the country who think the Prez is Muslim) is greater than 1 out of 3 (those who think the Prez is Christian). In fact, 1 out of 3 is a bigger portion than 1 out of 5. Ask your kindly neighborhood Math Teacher if 1/3 is a bigger number than 1/5, and they will say yes. Just keep that in mind.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  11. steve

    Honestly. Does it really matter what religion he is. This country, and world have much bigger problems to deal with.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  12. DownToEarth8

    A) Just because hes black and has a different sounding last name doesnt mean hes a muslim. What are we, in 2nd grade?
    I've talked to people who don't live in America, and its a shame how STUPID we look that "it just so happens" that we start accusing the first black president of not being an American citizen and saying hes not Christian. It also looks stupid when ZERO cooperation is given to this presidency and its efforts to fix the mess we're in right now, which was caused by a president who many of these anti-obama people supported.

    B) Either way, WHAT THE HELL DOES IT MATTER? Or does freedom of religion only apply to Christians? Will somoene please explain to me why him being Muslim is such a problem? And don't say "Well why doesnt he just show a birth certificiate" or " Why doesnt he just come out and say hes not?". Hes the EFFING PRESIDENT! Hes not going to pander down to people based on childish and tabloid-esque arguements. Since when has a president EVER been required to show his birth certificate publically. In most cases, these arguments are driven by racism or just a blatent desire to see this presidency fail (how patriotic). So will somone please let me know how this affects them on a personal level?

    August 19, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  13. XWngLady

    "one in five say Obama a Muslim"

    ...Then one in five Americans are IGNORANT and/or woefully misinformed. He is not a Muslim. He is a Christian...and all of those who say that he is not a Christian either do NOT know what constitutes being a Christian or not and/or they are purposefuly falsely witnessing against Barack Obama.

    Barack Obama confessed Jesus Christ as his savior on National Television at Saddleback church in 2008. Whether you think his actions or his behavior or anything else makes him a Christian or not is irrelevant. Christianity is not based on deeds or works, its based on a personal belief and acceptance of Christ as one's savior. After that, it is between them and God as to whether they are growing in their faith or not. WE ARE NOT TO JUDGE!

    ...and for the record it is theologically and spiritually impossible to be both a Christian and a Muslim at the same time.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  14. Nancy

    He's not muslim, he's a biiitch.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  15. AnnieM

    An agnostic died and went to Heaven (really!). After going through the pearly gates, St. Peter led him down a long hallway toward the light. All along the hallway there were closed and locked doors on each side. Each door had the label of a different religion. When the agnostic asked what they were, St. Peter smiled and said "Oh, those rooms are for the people who believed in the different religions on earth. But, please be very quiet, because they all think they are the only ones here..."

    August 19, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Fenchurch

      @AnnieM

      LOL good joke.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  16. wzrd1

    What I find astounding is that ANYONE has a question on what the President ACTUALLY feels about that Islamic center.
    I know that *I* found his words QUITE clear.
    They have a right to build, some silly constitution thing that he swore to uphold and protect.
    He "remained silent on the wisdom". Wow, people think he's FOR it? That essentially saying he REALLY thinks it's a stupid idea, but if he says so he has chosen a side. And choosing a side in an issue that is owned by only one city is a BAD idea and oversteps his legal bounds.
    Hence, he won't remark on the wisdom of a poorly thought out idea.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  17. Oh Gawd

    1 in 5 Americans are completed morons. What happened to separation of "church and state".....regardless of what his religious beliefs are...they SHOULD have no bearing on his JOB....what the F are people in this country smoking ?!?! Whether he is muslim, christian, buddist....he doesn't have to "a little more public about what the president does to be an active Christian"...thats just asinine. what a shame that this is what AMERICA has become. Intolerant, hating bigots. This has nothing to do with muslims, islam or any other scapegoat that the republicans and the right-wing media want to throw out there. They hare feeding on the ignorance that has plagued this country for decades and now its surfacing for the entire world to look at....what a shame.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  18. Dave

    Of course this article totally sidesteps the real issue, which is that it shouldn't matter what religion the president is or isn't. Of course, most people in this country aren't intellectually capable of getting past the idea that anyone who doesn't believe in their religion must be immoral. Most people aren't even capable of doing some basic research to find the facts. What a joke.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  19. nope

    I am muslim and trust me he is far from being a muslim. Just as far from being muslim as the ones whom resort to terrorism.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  20. Gwen

    That's why America has some of the dumbest children in the world...After a poll like this one, I can see why...Look at the parents.......

    August 19, 2010 at 12:03 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.