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. Roses

    Let's keep it real. That one in five must be mentally impaired. First the Republicans blast his pastore (remember)!! All any rational person has to do is follow the money. As much money as they gave to their Church, get real!!

    August 19, 2010 at 8:29 am |
  2. Carl

    Instead of using Theory and Rumors....check his background....He "IS" a Muslim

    August 19, 2010 at 8:28 am |
    • nonesuch

      Based on your background and the evidence you present, you're a bozo.

      August 19, 2010 at 8:33 am |
    • Liz

      And you must be, let me guess, one of the Repubs who's just scared silly to no be in control. Tough.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  3. Methusalem

    Who is a Muslim?

    Genesis 17:20. A great people and nation are promised to Ishmael. Indeed, the peoples that have come from Ishmael and fruitful and populous. A further word was spoken concerning this son: "And he shall be as a wild ass among men; his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his brethren." Genesis 16:12. This passage is full of light on Ishmael and contains important details. It informs us that Ishmael as a wild ass among men will be of unbridled and unrestrained nature. His will be a rough and raw existence. Just as the wild ass makes his home in the desert (Job 39:5-8), so the sons of Ishmael have been known as the sons of the desert. Furthermore, he will be at sword's point with all men and all men will be in conflict with him. He will be a hostile and belligerent nation. And he was to dwell eastward (see Genesis 25:18) of his brethren, where his stronghold has been ever since that time.

    Nothing less than the complete extinction and annihilation of God's people Israel have been the goal and aim of the Ishmaelites down the course of their national history. During the Middle Ages the sons of Ishmael (the Arabs) subjugated large portions of Europe and the countries to the east, thus aiding with the Romish Church to make those ages the Dark Ages of history. And today these sons of Ishmael are among the greatest adversaries of the Gospel of our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:28 am |
  4. ljiggle

    What does a person's "religion" have to with the price of tea in China? By pointing out someone's "religion" and making it a devisive point, people perpetuate DISCRIMINATION. There is a culture of fear that has been perpetuated in US since the contry's inception. First it was against monarchist rule, then it was against Communism, now it's againts Islam. I use "religion" in quotes because 90% of the world prays to the SAME GOD, just called a different name. The Q'uran and the Old Testament have the same freakin' stories and origins of their respective religious beginings. Most religions come from the same place. So what if he's Muslim, Christian, or Jewish? The American populous is the most bass akwards entity on the face of the planet!!!! There are AMERICANS of all different ancestoral origin, but it's only when someone isn't a White Anglo Saxon Protestant that the masses start freakin' out. Get over yourself America. The country is in the toilet and the ONLY person with any wherewithall to do a damn thing about it is BLACK MAN with an Arabic name. If people despise ISLAM so much, do away with all Arabic references in your society. That means stop using NUMBERS, REFRIGERATION, and IRRIGATION TECHNIQUES. Yes...MUSLIMS invented those concepts....

    August 19, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  5. Roses

    And that one in five must be mentally impaired. Let's keep it real, the way the Republicans blasted his pastor and followed the money; as much as they gave to their church. Like I said they must be mentally impaired

    August 19, 2010 at 8:25 am |
  6. Mike

    If the Republicans would quit lying about Obama, then people would know him better. But that is the problem, the Republicans think they have nothing unless they attack him personally. Can't they disagree on what he does instead of going for the personally attacks? Being an independent, I am voting for NON Republican until they change their tactics! Is Micky Mouse running again soon?

    August 19, 2010 at 8:25 am |
  7. Arturro

    Some people should do a little research and see that his mother, who in large part raised him, was a secular humanist. If you don't know what that means, look it up. My guess is that he is probably just that, or maybe agnostic or athiest, but probablly intelligent enough not to admit to it and commit political suicide.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:25 am |
  8. larvadog

    What everyone needs to realize is that the media and the political establishment (all of it) in this country are manipulating us by triggering our emotions. They know what the sore spots are, they know they can get us to vote with our emotions rather than our brain, and that works for them. We are all just tools, in the literal and figurative sense. We must all realize this and fight back with our brains, not our emotions.

    This article is a perfect example. While it may be interesting to know what the poll says, it doesn't matter. If 99 percent of Americans think the prez is Muslim or Hindu or Mormon, it doesn't change what he actually is. It just gives us something else to latch on to emotionally, so we can debate like fools on whether the prez is "really" Muslim or not. They can always count on the reactionaries to foment the distrust and hatred, and in that way we're kept from debating about the important issues and prevented from seeing what is really going on around us.

    So just keep arguing about what religion Obama is, or where he was born, or whether he should take a vacation, or...or...or... All the while, our government (all three branches, remember?) is operating without our consent and getting away with it.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:25 am |
    • Dumbectomy


      There's too much truth! Their heads will explode! Don't! stop!

      August 19, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  9. JMF

    Why the hell is there even such a POLL????????? Who comes up with this stuff. Give me a break? I am so tired of these foolish polls.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:25 am |
  10. TheYear2080

    Really? Who the eff cares! There is no religion prerequisite to becoming the President... is there? I though he was for everyone.

    ~In the future, they'll laugh at all of us~

    August 19, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  11. Kman

    You guys are all acting like this was a conservative poll. This was made by a company that CNN hired and all you can say is republicans this, conservatives that. People who watch Fox are stupid and ignorant blah blah blah. I get it you dont like Republicans and youll blame them for everything. Just like they do with Democrats. Both parties and their followers are so wrapped up in themselves they lose sight of ways we can make this country better. We'd rather stand on opposite ends of the country and belittle each other. Dems and Reps both suck!!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 8:23 am |
  12. Romas

    Well if people would learn to think and stop being sheep we might have a chance at reducing the stupidity rate here in this country. Might as well proclaim that Bush is Jewish and within a few months 1 in 5 Americans would believe that. The high stupidity rate is further exemplified by the nonsensical commentaries left by people. Sigh......

    August 19, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  13. Bill


    August 19, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  14. Kayway

    so because he was given his father's name is automatically makes him muslim, makes him suspicious and a liar, etc?!? if his name was Barry would be people be so frickin harsh? Reps think of the world of "hindu" born Bobby Jindal and his name is really Piyush. would he even got elected if he ran under the name Piyush? I highly doubt it. Give me a break. I'm so tired of ignorant people, no amount of truth in all the world can convince them of anything. Obama believes in God, that is all that matters, and I dont blame him for not being a part of a church at the moment, with how much he is under scrutiny for everything he says and does that would only add more fuel to the republican fires. no pres has ever been ripped so much for having an occasional smoke or vacation day. did we ever tell Bush during ALL the worst crisis of this nation to "you better stay locked up in the white house and get the job done" NO! instead people were like, "he's dealing with a lot let him take a break, the job of president is hard enough". I've never heard any republican speak this way of our current leader, and Obama has taken a small fraction of the days off as Bush did. (Bush totaled over 900 days during his 2 terms, half the time spent at Camp David and the other half at his HOME in Texas, can you imagine if Obama spent that much time at his home in Chicago?? People would go crazy!!!!!)

    August 19, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  15. David Lawson

    Hey USA – get in line with the rest of the world and realise that there are moderate Muslims and extremist Muslims. Just like there are moderate Christians and extremist Christians. Some awful atrocities have occurred in Christ's name....including the Iraq War which has claimed the lives of many innocents.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  16. bob from SC

    Does anyone else see the following correlation.....as the number of students failing to graduate high school, who then get out in the "real world" rises......the number of "misinformed" who have this weird idea Obama is Muslim also rises????

    August 19, 2010 at 8:20 am |
    • Johnny Five

      No, not really. I think it can be said the MOST misinformed people in the world on the ones that ateend 20+ years of social education that is controlled by "minds" connected to weathly think tanks.

      It can also be said that those who learn by observation and reading their fellow humans emotions and ideals, can go to and fro on the internet finding truth.

      August 19, 2010 at 8:29 am |
  17. David

    Bush's fault, right?

    August 19, 2010 at 8:18 am |
  18. The Other G. W.

    Are people this stupid?

    August 19, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  19. Johnny Five

    This article is NONSENSE. What authority does it bring? Very biased. Author should probably be forced to wear eye shadow because of it.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  20. Nighthhaawk

    Blame Bush and "No child left behind!"...sounds like a few ADULTS wer left behind!!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 8:16 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
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.