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. zoomer

    the way he's screwing Our country why we we believe other wise.where do you think he got all
    the money to run for President. Obama BIn Laden . he's out to screw us all.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:10 am |
    • Mary4nn

      Do you vote? God save us all.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
    • bomberboy

      Oh ya and the republicans contract on America got us where we are today.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  2. mona

    ....some things are so ridiculous...obama is xtain...stop saying this and that about him...why should there be a poll om what religion people think obama is. the guy says he's a christain then accept it and start worrying about how people will get food in somalia and aid in pakistan..

    August 19, 2010 at 7:06 am |
  3. j.brown

    Couldn CNN.com, FOR ONE DAY, take a break from its presidential high-tech lynchings?

    August 19, 2010 at 7:06 am |
  4. WMesser58

    The REAL problem is that it has to be debated if what religion he is. WHO CARES!!!! They are all divisive and until America gets that we will have these holy terror wars that neither side will give up. Secular is the only way to go. GET RELIGION OUT OF THE GOVERNMENT as the Constitution dictates. Stop pandering to any religious group and try and run the Country.

    Fix unemployment and health care and let these so call religions fix your morality. Stop looking at politicians doing that they gave up their souls the minute they entered politics just ask the lobbyist and special interest groups (SAME THING) who runs this country.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:06 am |
  5. benson

    For crying out loud people, read his idiotic book where he says that if the world faced a war of ideology, he'd side with islam. This story should be accompanied by another that reads, "4 out of 5 Americans are completely ignorant and incapable of putting simple facts together."

    August 19, 2010 at 7:04 am |
    • WMesser58

      @benson Nope it's clear 5 out of 5 because you're the 5th wheel.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:07 am |
  6. Montanan

    Although CNN may not have shown who funded this survey, it's most likely based in fact. The reality is that too many Americans read emails that provide this kind of information, and they not only accept the misinformation, but they pass it on .... many because they are bigots who truly want to never see a minority in office again - whether it's based on color, sex or religion, but most because they choose not to think for themselves. They are lead astray with misinformation because they're too lazy to verify the information, much less do their own research to express their own opinions. And the real scary part is that they can vote.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:04 am |
  7. A Believer in our Constitution

    This just shows that 1 in 5 of Americans are very stupid.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:03 am |
  8. chaski

    Have we always been this stupid? Or is our IQ shrinking in inverse proportion to our waistlines?

    August 19, 2010 at 6:57 am |
  9. moussedc

    How many people who commented on the poll results actually looked at ALL the results from this poll. If you did, you would see how tightly bound to what religion one thinks President Obama practices and his "job approval rating". Real people of faith do not judge!

    August 19, 2010 at 6:54 am |
  10. Juni

    Then 2/3 of this country is ignorant and quite stupid. Obama is a Christian. Simple.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:54 am |
  11. Tony

    I hope he is pro-no-religion. Let's face it, nothing of them are truly constructive. All are typically pro-destructive.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:51 am |
  12. jdunc

    I don't really care what religion our president is as long as he has values and respects people and works toward the god of ALL Americans. But, how ignorant are most voters? How can you not know the presidents religion? Don't people read anything? This is our biggest problem today, as it has been in our entire history, Americans don't follow the news, politics or current events if it doesn't affect them directly. They will believe the big lies and not even question them- such as, Obama is a Muslim. We often elect crooks and liars who are only in politics to further their agenda's not to do what is best for America. Good examples are health care, bank regulation and now, watch out for social security. Health care was stopped to protect big insurance co's and pharmaceuticals, band regulations were softened to protect big banking co's. Wake up folks, its your country! Don't let the few control you with falsehoods!

    August 19, 2010 at 6:48 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      If we want to understand how people can kill in the name of Islam and violate Islamic teaching we can look at people who do the same thing to Christianity and feel more holy for spouting lies, promoting hatred, and supporting killing.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:03 am |
    • Dumbectomy



      August 19, 2010 at 9:20 am |
    • bomberboy

      Thank YOU! You hit the nail on the head.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  13. awasis

    Like Christianity isn't a political cult in this country? In reality to get elected, you have to be Christian. All this hysteria is driven by hate and fear. We will all look back on this in 10 years and history will show how misguided (putting it nicely) a good number of Americans were. God is not mentioned in the Constitution so believing in a god should not be pre-requisite.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:48 am |
  14. ' o '

    I think Muslims dragged him into this problem. Obama could of started by questioning the wisdom AND then stood by his beliefs and upholding constitutional rights which is honorable but he played into Islamic agitators perhaps. I think Muslims want a republican in office again...

    August 19, 2010 at 6:47 am |
  15. Yogaflow

    What difference is that supposed to make? Isn't our country is based on Freedom of Religion? Obama is NOT pro-Mosque. He is pro America and Freedom under the Constitution.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:45 am |
  16. Abraham

    This is a dumb poll. No Muslim wants to be Christain. Islam is an action not a noun. Meaning even Muslims must state they are Muslim everyday. His stance on the mosque two blocks away is according to the law of the land.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:44 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Too many people call themselves patriots but will support the violation of the US Constitution.

      Too many people call themselves Christians but will support the violation of the 10 Commandments.

      Christianity has been misrepresented by those who think it is an elite social club.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:00 am |
    • Mary4nn

      I agree with you, but would like to further comment. The Cultural center is not a mosque and doesn't have a 'mosque' inside. It is a cultural center with a prayer area where Muslims can easily pray. In other words, this is a place where people of all faiths can come and have open discussions about culture and religion and have a better understanding of each other; It is a place where Muslims are opening their doors to the public in hopes of greater peace. To be quite frank, I believe after an incident like 9/11, the most respectful thing we could do to honor those who died is to fight extremism, through dialogue so something of that nature doesn't occur again. I know Obama is not Muslim, but I also know he is a good person. There are good people in every catergory (ie. Christian, Muslim, Atheists, Jews, Hindus... the list goes on) and there are bad in every category, as well. And all categories of people live in this country! Obama is simply standing up for the rights of our constitution in supporting the right of Muslims to open a Cultural Center two blocks from ground zero (not at or even visible from). He is also generally not playing up his religious beliefs, because he wants a country united... not divided. Each person's religious beliefs is something between him and God (or not... if atheist). It is not our concern unless it obstructs our rights as a public. I support him in his efforts to commit to unity, the constitution, and I do not judge him for his personal religious beliefs. I am not God, it is not my job to judge... nor is it anyone else's on this wall.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  17. fbysea

    Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car. If the dumb rednecks' definition of Christian is starting two wars and running our country in the ground, invoking God along the way, then let him be a muslim.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:42 am |
    • Crane


      No kidding. What a mess of a country. Americans shouldn't let the media run rampant like this, but who has the money required to bribe, or should I say "free speech", people into doing the right thing? And who needs to be PAID to do the right thing anyway? Are they being forced to do the wrong things? Or paid to do the wrong things?
      Money is a curse on humanity.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:12 am |
  18. Bob

    So now we have a poll to decide what religion someone else is? What about eye color?

    August 19, 2010 at 6:42 am |
    • checi

      The latest poll says that two thirds of Americans can't find their ass with both hands.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:57 am |
  19. Akira

    This poll seems to gauge people's ignorance more than anything.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:42 am |
  20. Bridget

    Is it not an act of treason to attempt to undermine the country's leader? Especially in these days where information is disseminated around the world in moments. How other countries must laugh when they see Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin in action. Think about it please, the constant attempts to destroy this President weaken the country and are a great disservice to the nation. Not to mention the worldwide display of America's lesser intelligentsia.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:41 am |
    • checi

      No it is not an act of treason to criticize a sitting President. However, it is an act of treason to attempt to overthrow the government by either open or clandestine means. Those that seek to change our Constitutions, both federal and state, to take power away from the government of the people are not always Americans either. Sometimes they are multinational corporations.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:02 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.