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. ron

    People are beginning to realize Obama is trhe anitchrist.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:31 am |
    • Caron Speas

      Here's one of the idiots.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:32 am |
    • bomberboy

      Obviously you don't know anything about christ except for what others tell you. If ignorance is bliss you must be one happy SOB.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
  2. d1andonly

    Update: 1 in 5 are idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:30 am |
  3. CJ

    A country united under Christianity is much stronger than a country divided by other religions. Everything that separates us makes us weaker. You will find the majority of traditional Americans that live in every small town have a passion for their Christian church and that is the heartbeat of our nation. Or at least it should be. No pre-requisite for Presidency? He sure acted like it when he was campaigning. I think he will act the part he needs to act at the time/place he needs to act it. Doesn't make him any different than any other of our last several Presidents.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:28 am |
  4. Matt

    It upsets me a lot that people are so susceptible to the power of suggestion. George Junior connected Iraq with the World Trade Center Attacks and now Republicans have linked Islam with President Obama. What's even more upsetting is that the same folks who put Saddam in the same boat as bin Laden *notice* when an idea is constantly being blast at them and take that as a sign of something being amiss. Regardless of all the policy he's been able to put in place (down to brass tacks, he's done more in the realm of getting progressive legislation passed then Clinton or Carter), the Conservative fervor has literally split our political system into a Football game where if you're not a head cheer leader, you're a bench warmer.

    Remember Bob Inglis. A lifetime 97% approval rating with the American Conservative Society. He did what was right by not jumping on the propaganda band wagon and making our government work and he got crucified for not being a zealot.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:28 am |
  5. macthemechanic

    Whoa. If that's true: the poll. Then 4 out of 5 Americans must work hard to pay for nationalized healthcare for the 1 in 5 in this poll, as they are clearly retarded and need to be institutionalized.

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

    This poll seems designed to measure the quantity of ignorance in America. Sadly, we're not getting any smarter. It also, ironicly, shows how worthless many polls are. A person chooses their own religion, the general public doesn't assign it.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:24 am |
  7. Norman

    We have in the 21st century reverted back to what I call the uglies. These are the intolernt so called Americans who use religion and culture to define THEIR America. We are in fact a melting pot of all religions and cultures. That is a fact. What also is a fact is that a particular so called news station supports these uglies and especially fuel there fire.

    If any of our founding fathers were alive today they would be very dissapointed of the road the United States has gone done and surely they had not envisioed or wanted.


    August 19, 2010 at 7:22 am |
    • Matt

      The more I think about it, Norman, I doubt the Founding Fathers would care. They were Aristocrats and they went to war to keep their money under the guise of Freedom. Jefferson talked about liberating the soul of an oppressed people, but had to keep in mind that his associates would not take kindly to their slaves suddenly being liberated as it would affect their bottom line.

      The Tea Party represents what we were, who we were, two hundred odd years ago; but they sure don't represent what we are now.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:34 am |
  8. Hot Patata

    This has to be the dumbest country on the planet. People here can't spell, can't find anything on a map, can't think critically to save their lives. And anyone who can do these things must be some alien terrorist deviant. I weep for our future.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:22 am |
  9. SilverHair

    Personal opinion has nothing to do with what is in another's heart and soul.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:21 am |
  10. raiden

    just for the record, he did go to catholic school while in jakarta.. i know cause i went there too

    August 19, 2010 at 7:20 am |
  11. BlueSky

    Muslim people are not good at science and technology.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:18 am |
    • Mary4nn

      Really? Here's just one example why you are wrong: Jābir ibn Hayyān, a Muslim chemist who is "considered by many to be the father of chemistry",[11][12][13] introduced the experimental scientific method for chemistry, as well as laboratory apparatus such as the alembic, still and retort, and chemical processes such as pure distillation, liquefaction,[14][15] crystallisation,[11] and filtration.[14][15] He also invented more than twenty types of laboratory apparatus,[16] leading to the discovery of many chemical substances.[17] He also develops recipes for stained glass and describes lustre-painting on glass.[18]

      Where did I find this? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_science_and_engineering_in_the_Islamic_world

      August 19, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  12. Russ

    God doesn't hate muslims; but he does hate Islam!

    August 19, 2010 at 7:16 am |
    • Joe

      Once you've made the point that your God hates, perhaps you should reconsider your belief in your hateful God!

      August 19, 2010 at 7:30 am |
    • Dumbectomy



      August 19, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  13. Don Jones

    You will never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American voter. Like our previous village idiot President, most Americans blame the Afghans and Iraqis for 911. For god's sake, when will we learn that ignorance is very dangerous in today's world. We finally have a leader that speaks to us like adults, but I'm afraid he's wasting his time.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:15 am |
  14. Joe

    Religions and, more specifically, religious differences are a cancer in our society. We were invited to a holy war on 9/11 and the zealots from all sides are rushing to participate. We're a house divided over fairy tales. It's like watching 1st graders argue about the existance of Santa Claus.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:15 am |
    • civiloutside

      Worse... it's like watching them getting into bloody fistfights over whether Santa Claus, Chris Kringle, or St. Nicholas is the true Father Christmas.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  15. muslims R terrorists

    Barry Husse!n says it all.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:14 am |
    • Joe


      August 19, 2010 at 7:16 am |
    • Joe

      Just because my name's Joe doesn't make me Stalin!

      August 19, 2010 at 7:30 am |
    • Juni

      My middle name is David. Does that mean I'm a comedian, like David Letterman? Or a nude statue? Or a musician, like Dave Matthews? Don't be stupid.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  16. Matt

    Why would people think that he is a Muslim? It's preposterous really.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:14 am |
  17. Kat

    Obama is a closet Muslim, a long plan intent on destroying America by redistributing wealth, making people reliant on government handouts and dismantling the country piece by piece, plus fragmenting its citizenry. People need to walk up and see the long-term consequences of this administration.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:13 am |
    • frag

      I only want to redistribute your wealth, so that you can't afford a computer, so we don't have to respond to your stupidity.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • VonMoore



      August 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  18. red ced

    Amazing how republicans and Christian fundamentalists can still manipulate the american people. Obama is a muslim, Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong, the dinosaurs never existed, God created the world in 6 days, and so on... US should spent 3 trillion bucks on education instead of war. An educated people wouldn't be so easily manipulated to go to war.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:13 am |
    • Crane

      @red ced Education is a veneer that is easily stripped away if you use the right methods. If it was a cure-all we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place...

      August 19, 2010 at 7:20 am |
  19. muslims R terrorists

    With a name like Husse!n is there any wonder why.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:12 am |
  20. Don

    he was raised Muslim by his father and adopted father. he became "Christian" when it would help his political career. He is not fooling me, he is Muslim, acts like a Muslim and bows down to Muslims. He's a Christian about as much as the King of Saudi Arabia is.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:12 am |
    • bomberboy

      And if you really believe what you say can I interest you in some ocean view property in Arizona?

      August 19, 2010 at 6:43 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.