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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. Concerned

    To watch a bashing of ALL fundamentalism and the dangers of blind belief, catch Monty Python's "Life of Brian", it's hilarious... and sadly accurate of what's happening across America, and indeed the rest of the World. Problem is, fundamentalists and blind believers think what's true for them, must be true for all. And all who potentially may challenge those precepts are enemies who must be converted or...

    Reading the bile in some of these posts does not bode well for promoting sanity, reason and understanding

    August 19, 2010 at 6:38 am |
    • Nutbar23percentbetter

      @Concerned

      I tried to watch MontyPython's "Life of Brian" twice, but it was way too boring and not funny like the "Holy Grail" movie.

      Be grateful there aren't that many people posting in here.
      If Jesus ever shows up, I hope he's got some universal healthcare for us that includes mental health provisions.
      As a nutbar, I resemble your remarks and introduce you to my invisible rabbit friend, Bugs Bunny of the Apocolyps.
      Say something, Bugs!

      August 19, 2010 at 6:51 am |
  2. Dorie

    While the results of this survey are shocking to this high school diploma only holder, I work with a lady who said she didn't like Mexicans because they weren't Christians, they were Catholics!!!!! She really said this and she really thinks Catholics aren't Christians. This is in Nashville, Tennessee. She can read and write but never picks up a newspaper or informs herself on any matter of the world. Scary.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:36 am |
    • checi

      Believe it or not, a priest at the Catholic church I used to go to told me the same thing. Catholics are not Christians. They are Catholics. Christians worship Jesus only. Catholics have the trinity stuff and the whole kit & kaboodle they gotta believe in.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:07 am |
  3. Liam

    I don't care if the man is a Tibetan reformed orthodox moose worshiper as long as he does a good job of running the country. Ooooh! Oooooh! What if he's not christian (gasp)?!?!? Why is the faith of someone else any of your business? We all believe in a different invisible man in the sky, so go talk to yours and move on.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:29 am |
    • checi

      It's a schizophrenic country that yaks about celebrating its diversity and setting aside weeks to comemmorate different ethnic groups and then goes purple in the face when someone who is different comes around with a point of view.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:11 am |
  4. Surthurfurd

    "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." God
    So why do so many Christians bear false witness against Obama and declare he is not a Christian? When justifying hatred and personal shame, it is tempting to engage in great sin and turn to the masses of sinners to feel comfort in that sin. Turn away, and follow Jesus now. For in bearing false witness you deny Christ.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:28 am |
  5. ken

    Of course he's Muslim. He talked about his muslim upbringing in a candid interview I saw just before he decided to run for prez. I don't think he's extremely devout as much as some people brought up catholic drift when they become adults. I love how truth get's twisted and re-made to suit stuff in these situations. He actually said a lot of stuff in this interview they had to bury as they "rebuilt" his past. I wish you all could seen it, he would have never been elected becuase it showed the lies.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:28 am |
    • checi

      And of course you are a plastic doll made by Mattell because your name is Ken. Didn't you ever hear of a slippery slope argument? That's the kind of argument you are making. He said something once about having Muslim relatives so he must be Muslim. But that was before he was elected and no one but you saw it. Come to think of it, that sounds kind of paranoid too.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:16 am |
  6. Ron Nospam

    I fail to see why it even matters.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:27 am |
  7. didi

    What's the point of calling yourself Christian in public if you don't act like one. Cases in point: Bristol Palin and Mark Sanford. That's very hypocritical.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:26 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      For far too many of us, Christianity is a social club. They do not feel they need to follow the 10 Commandments or Jesus' teachings. All they feel is showing up in Church every once in a while and condemning people who are different makes one a Christian.

      This is as much Christian as the Conquistadors, the Witch burners, and the KKK.... all pretenders to Christianity. When Jesus said "forgive them for they know not what they do;" he was referring to all who deny him even those who do so in his name.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:53 am |
  8. Drinky

    20% think Obama is a Muslim....and 100% of me doesn't care. Of course 20% would be just about the number of hard core right wingers out there...and idiots

    August 19, 2010 at 6:24 am |
  9. Dexter

    You can't tell me to shut up on this one!!! It's Obama's fault!!!!!!!! Ha!

    August 19, 2010 at 6:20 am |
    • Frogist

      Yes we can. Shut up.

      August 19, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  10. Paul in Louisville

    Never underestimate the stupidity of Americans.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:20 am |
  11. Glen Limbaugh

    Just goes to show how effective the Big Lie can be when repeated often enough. No doubt, most of these people watch Fox for their information.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:18 am |
  12. tabu19

    Obama says he is a Christian but I truly believe that he is Muslin. I had high hopes for Obama when he became President but I now see he is a far-left radical. I could have dealt with moderate left as was Clinton. Obama worse than Jimmy Carter.

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

      As a Republican, I have been amazed at how many of Obama's policies have been centrist with Republican leanings. What you are comparing them to is radical rhetoric of those who would consider Reagan a Liberal.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:49 am |
  13. Li Tai Fang

    He's a Christian. His faith is Christianity probably isn't as heavy as those religious conservatives from the South.
    I don't give a rats ass about his religion.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:03 am |
  14. John

    We don't know his religion with absolute certainty. Truthfully, he only purports being an African American, but he is a mulatto. He was raised by his white mother and white grandparents. Barry Obama had mostly white friends and girlfriends growing up. He went to Ivy League schools, not historically black colleges. But in college and as an adult, he aligned himself with his black side more than his white background, which is all but forgotten. Barry Obama has many sides to him and chooses to show only his most advantageous. Does being half black make him whole? Does Obama's public display of Christianity hide the fact his father's family has a Muslim lineage in Africa. His middle name is Hussein, isn't it?

    August 19, 2010 at 5:55 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      welcome to the United States of Mullatos! time for you to emigrate to Australia!

      August 19, 2010 at 6:18 am |
    • didi

      There are a lot of spanish people with the name Omar which is also a muslim name. But they are not muslims. Your point is?

      August 19, 2010 at 6:28 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      We do not know the religion of those who are casting stones and bearing false witness against Obama; but, since they are denying God's Commandment and Jesus's warnings it seems that they have lost their way. Jesus is not your "get out of Hell free card." Christianity is not some elite social club. It is a choice and a burden, the most beautiful one.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:47 am |
    • checi

      I heard some black kids call my Italian daughter a mulatto once and it only goes to show you that people most often don't know what they are talking about. I really don't think he "aligned himself with his black side" as much as he got involved with issues of black poverty in Chicago. His family did not have the legacy of slavery. His wife's family did. Why shouldn't that affect him? Why would it be wrong for a man of any color or ethnic background to act for others of similar background in terms of making their lives better? A white Irish man in Boston might align himself with other Irish and would never be accused of aligning himself with his Irish side. So for you John, it really is all about his skin color, isn't it?

      August 19, 2010 at 7:31 am |
    • ralph5

      According to what he stated when he was running for office, he is only 5% black, 45% Arib and 50% White.

      August 19, 2010 at 8:17 am |
  15. RobertAllen

    This "Poll" has to be one of the silliest Presidential Polls ever. Did it ever occur to anyone that Jesus has a strong dislike to religious people – he wants them to be spiritual without photo ops of them walking into a church of any kind. Whoever thinks that the only place to exhibit true religion is in a church, does not know enough about Scripture to even comment on it. However, in their ignorance they will continue to deride Obama for not being Christian enough. How said that the citizens of this country feel empowered to make such inane judgements.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:52 am |
  16. Jerry

    Barack Hussain Obama, the son and stepson of Muslim men, both of whom were required under Islamic law to raise Barack as a Muslim......is he still a Muslim? Darn straight he is. If he had truly converted to Christianity, he would be an apostate and subject to death at the hands of any Muslim by Islamic law. When was the last time that you heard someone from the Islamic world call for "Death to the Apostate Obama", huh? Muslims are allowed to lie about their faith in order to do things for the Islamic world. It is called Tayyiq or deception. Most of the Islamic world believes that Obama is still Muslim too. He is the "Meccan Candidate" and not to be trusted to work in this nation's best interests for certain.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:49 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      the reason no one from the muslim world has called for the death of Obama is because in general muslims don't go around killing their apostates, never have!

      August 19, 2010 at 6:17 am |
    • Mary4nn

      Damn. I thought ignorance was bliss, but you seem pretty bitter! I'd hate to be you... dumb and angry... that's a recipe for disaster.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  17. Whatdoyouexpect

    All officially atheist nations have always been oppressive and engaged in mass murder. The old Soviet Union, China, Cuba, ect. Sorry, studies show religious people are more charitable, more mentally stable, and commit suicide less often. Atheism seems to be detrimental to individuals and to society. This from Robert.........Robert What do you call "ethnic cleansing, war , the inquisition, and the crusades"......A bunch of atheists minding their own business??? More people have been killed in the name of GOD, than any other reason in History.......pu tz

    August 19, 2010 at 5:48 am |
    • notsurprised

      @Whatdoyouexpect

      I expected you would say something like that.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:04 am |
  18. Whatdoyouexpect

    How many of the people polled are conservative and voted Muslim on purpose????? Didn't ask that question in your poll, did ya????? skewed at best.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:41 am |
  19. Whatdoyouexpect

    Polls are a reflection of the pollster more than anything.......Too many things could affect their results to consider them accurate....Especially with demographics and wording.....More of a tool of misinformation, if you ask me...

    August 19, 2010 at 5:38 am |
  20. Whatdoyouexpect

    Only 20+ % of the population votes.....Seems to me that only 30% knowing hes Christian is a pretty good number don't you think?

    August 19, 2010 at 5:34 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.