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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. Liberal and Proud

    I wonder how many self-professed "Christians" in the United States are truly Christian in the highest sense? I wonder how many of these people Jesus would recognize as Christian.

    How can a Republican possibly be a Christian when Republican "values" go against so much of what Jesus taught? Republicans worship money; Jesus was quite frank in his attitudes about the rich. Republicans celebrate oppression; Jesus fought against it and was tortured and crucified for his defiance of the "conservative" forces of his day: the Roman Empire and the "keepers of the law." The list could on and on forever.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:53 am |
  2. chappy

    Of course his religion is irrelevant but the Right has dumbed down the Nation's priorities. Their base can't comprehend the important issues as easily as knowing they want someone like themselves and not different in anyway. Even if the opponent is the same they will demonize them until their base thinks they are different. That is why people think Obama is a Muslum, and not born here, and a socialist, and against guns, and the rest of the lies. It has been their playbook for a long time. Fox News does this non stop and it plays to those who want to believe the lies to justify their own true prejudices.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:51 am |
    • avoteravoter

      You got it.

      August 19, 2010 at 3:54 am |
  3. Peter

    Yet further evidence (as if any more was needed) that Americans excel in three categories:

    1. Greed.
    2. Vanity.
    3. Stupidity.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:49 am |
    • DallasTex

      You forgot two more... Arrogance and entitlement....

      August 19, 2010 at 3:39 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      4. gun making

      August 19, 2010 at 6:04 am |
    • tobosbunny

      5: Way to many reality shows

      August 19, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  4. Ferdinand of Castile

    The human brain is well programmed to arrange fears in order of decreasing seriousness. Lots of people find themselves defending Segregative Islam and bash Christianity which is not a threat to them. What is the point of hosting an Iftar dinner for Muslims in the White house?? Food offered to a Muslim by a Non Muslim is Haram (unlawful) and any Muslim eating such food is rendered Najis (dirty). Is the White house chef Muslim? This is pathetic!

    August 19, 2010 at 2:48 am |
    • thrutruthyouth

      @Ferdinand of Castile

      Yes, your post is pathetic. I agree.

      August 19, 2010 at 2:58 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      its funny you say that. because the truth is the opposite. in fact, its lawful to eat meat at the house of a christian or a jew, even if the meat is not halal by islamic standards. this is mentioned in the Koran itself.

      in my opinion the reason being that to be picky about such a matter while sitting in someone's house where they have invited you and bought meat and spent hours cooking it, the poor manners of rejecting their food on the basis of halal or haram would be much worse than the transgression of eating haram meat in order to be a gracious guest.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:03 am |
  5. avoteravoter

    Well, I guess we can chalk off freedom of religion as a constitutional right. Within five years, what you believe, why, and how you demonstrate it will be subject to regular examination. If you prove to be a Christian but do not go along with narrow minded demonstration of same, you will go on a list that includes suspicion of religious and patriotic questionableness.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:47 am |
  6. Cliffy

    Americans are just funny people.....have to say. Still love you guys. Just the other day your President had to disown his preist that Rev Wright dude. Unless I'm mistaken that Rev Wright dude was a Christian Preist.....no wait i think he was a Jewesh monk or something. Religion is a waste of our time..........

    August 19, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  7. Rene in PA

    I hope he's an atheist. But who really cares, anyway, except for extremist christians?

    August 19, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  8. Brian

    You all are fools, I worship Shatner.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:40 am |
  9. Marc

    If you question his religion?Then I question each and everyones Relgion!

    August 19, 2010 at 2:38 am |
    • RelgionIchooseU

      lol

      August 19, 2010 at 6:19 am |
  10. Clark1b

    perhaps it is because true faith is evidenced by Christian works .... and the evidence leaves everybody guessing. Read the book of James. A true Christian pastor preaches the Word of God ... not topical sermons of his own thoughts. And a true Christian would be able to recognize whether or not their own pastor was preaching the Word of God ... or simply raising the emotions of his congregation with the words of man that tickle their ears. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:37 am |
    • Chris R

      Good point, but a true Christian would *never* try to become president of the United States. A true christian tends to his own soul and spreads the word. A true christian does not seek temporal power. Especially power that would be used to wage ware and impose violence on others. A true christian is humble and meek. So yeah, he's probably not a true christian anymore than you are.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  11. Brian

    Also, the only reason so many people think he's muslim is because the media persuaded people that this is true just so they could get ratings.

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

      CNN *cough*

      August 19, 2010 at 2:38 am |
  12. Willythekorn

    "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," says Joel Hunter, an evangelical pastor.

    I wonder what the Christian Right would have thought about George Washington. He NEVER talked about his religious preferences, and referred to God in only the broadest possible terms. Indeed, he seemed to prefer the term "Providence" to "God". That's because Washington understood what the Christian Right doesn't. The President is the President of ALL the people - Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, whatever.

    It was George W. Bush who was the aberration - wearing his Christianity on his sleeve to pander to his base - not Obama.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:34 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      Obama seems pretty christian to me. well atleast compared to the number of republican politicians and pastors and TV evangelists who have been caught with their pants down. if you know what i mean!

      August 19, 2010 at 5:57 am |
  13. anne

    After just completing a statistics class, I really understand how polls can be deceiving; numbers can be manipulated in a biased fashion. What population was sampled for this poll? Who were the actual participants who did the poll? The truth is, if someone doesn't like you, they will look for and find evidence, even made-up in their own mind, to support their belief regardless of how decent a person you appear to be.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:34 am |
  14. Islam is Not a Religion

    Islam is not a religion. It is a political ideology that supports murder (honor killings) and rape (your wife is your property and you can do anything you want with her). Unlike every other "religion", Islam allows these practices today. In Saudi Arabia, the seat of Sunni leadership, this stuff is allowed. In Iran, the seat of Shiite leadership, it is also allowed.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:33 am |
  15. Brian

    Big whoop,

    He's not asked to lead a congregation. Also, nice try, but I think a fair amount of people can figure out that more folks think he's Christian than Muslim. Also, he's leading people of all faiths so sometimes it can be a blessing to have a leader that is hard to figure out faith-wise. His aim is to make sure as many people as possible feel part of this nation and not to make large groups feel like outsiders.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:33 am |
    • steverinski

      Excellent point.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  16. Worst Poll Ever !

    This has to be the dumbest poll CNN has done . Please demote who ever came up with this stupid poll !

    August 19, 2010 at 2:32 am |
  17. pepo

    "The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed." – Joseph Goebbels.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:31 am |
    • thrutruthyouth

      @pepo

      boowam pepo!

      August 19, 2010 at 2:53 am |
  18. Red Dawn

    While we bicker over nonsense China is trying to surpass us as the last remaining superpower. I hope you are proud of yourselves. Moreover, I hope you learn to speak Chinese since this nation may one day cease to exist due in part to racism.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:30 am |
    • Faisal

      my girlfriend is chinese christian so I'm doing just fine, thanks

      August 19, 2010 at 2:31 am |
    • geeg88

      Racism.....PLEASE! If I don't like people building mosques at inappropriate places in New York City, then I'm an "Islamophobe". If I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, then I'm a "homophobe". If I believe that we should build a secure fence to our south to insure border security, then I'm a racist, and on and on it goes..... I've come to the conclusion that the "official minority" is the "oppressed majority".

      August 19, 2010 at 2:33 am |
    • Red Dawn

      When our nation fades into oblivion please don't complain. After all, it is what you wanted... right?

      August 19, 2010 at 2:37 am |
    • hurrhurr

      WOLVERINES11111

      hurr

      August 19, 2010 at 2:50 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      actually, you will have to learn chinese because someday China will own most of the united states. the chinese are buying all of the US debt from their savings. one day they will come and take most of your property in order to pay off the debts they are owed.

      August 19, 2010 at 5:54 am |
  19. revolting peasant

    And all this time I thought O'bama was Irish Catholic.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:24 am |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Nah. That's O'Biden. }:>

      August 19, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  20. John Watson

    The ignorance of the average American is astounding. Or to put it bluntly, "What a bunch of dummies!"

    August 19, 2010 at 2:22 am |
    • geeg88

      Gee, that's so deep, John.

      August 19, 2010 at 2:27 am |
    • louee

      It may not be deep but it is oh so true.

      August 19, 2010 at 8:57 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.