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. getagrip

    When this moron appears on TV (which seems to be every single day) one cannot believe a single thing that comes out of his pie hole. Very sneaky/dishonest person in charge of our country right now. In fact, he is extremely incompetent and should either resign and go back to corrupt Chicago or be IMPEACHED.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  2. cm

    That confirms it...1 in 5 Americans are stupid.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  3. hannah

    One in five people are also idiots! Obama is Muslim like I'm Elvis Presley! Dummies.............
    Give the poor man a break, folks. He has inherited a terrible MESS to clean up!

    August 19, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  4. BenniMama

    Regardless of his religion, wouldn't the point still remain the same that he prays to an imaginary man in the sky? I find it more upsetting that the highest office in our country is held by someone who has any religion at all. Can we leave the dark ages for a minute people and use our brains instead of our 'faith'? There are more important issues at hand than what direction he prays or to whom he directs his prayers.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  5. Darth Vader

    1 in 5 people have an IQ of 70 or less. For the record, IQs of 51-70 are morons.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  6. Eat-Pray-Die

    1-in-5? That's a 20% ignorance rate. Shameful.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  7. getagrip

    And, the 1 in 5 are politicians!

    August 19, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  8. ja

    Is that all? I thought way more than a third of Americans were morons. Well, I guess 1 out of 3 morons among us is better than 2 out of 3.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  9. Stew

    Yeah, and 1 in 5 Americans are morons. Obama isn't a Muslim, nor is he a Christian either. He's too smart for either of those two belief systems. What? Can't figure it out for yourself? Then you're not as smart as you think you are.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  10. 83 Days to Go

    No Christian of any denomination, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, whatever would have graced Wright's church for 20 years and stomach that racist trash. I don't know whether Obama is Muslim or not, but its pretty hard to dispel the fact that A) Documents that have been circulating around show him enrolled in Indonesia in grade school with a religion listed as Muslim (no conversion); 2) He hasn't necessarily disavowed it and 3) He hasn't taken up a regular place of worship. Frankly I don't care for the man, and hope his poll numbers go even lower, but I'd have more respect for him if he'd just have a candid conversation with "the people"; it seems like everyone who can vouch for his past is either, missing, dead or unavailable. OMG does that make me a birther? Let the hating begin!!

    August 19, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  11. Mark

    Take a look at the opening statement :

    "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"

    Come on CNN, it should have read : "..are able to correctly identify the religion President Obama publicly says he adheres to..."

    This kind of spin, to try to get people to believe something, which may or may not be true, is not your usual style of reporting. I dont care WHAT religion he is, just reporting should not use words to spin it a particular way in the back of people's minds when no one but President Obama knows what his religion truly is.

    IF he is Muslim, and i stress the IF, he is required by Muslim law to LIE to the rest of us about it, and in this case most likely to lie to us and tell us he is Christian. If he is Christian, he is required by his faith to tell the truth. I seem to recall an old story about that... 🙂 Which is the truth?

    Only President Obama and his god will know for sure, but you can tell a lot by a person's actions. Watch his actions towards and about Christians and the Christian faith, and watch his actions towards Muslims and the Muslim faith to see the truth. Actions speak louder than words, and actions speak the truth when men do not.

    Missouri is called the "Show me" state for a reason.

    I believe none of what i hear, and half of what i see, following Benjamin Franklin's sage advice. Perhaps we all need to be reminded of those things that eloquent statesman tried to tell us so long ago.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:36 am |
    • Liz

      Perfect example of why religion has no place in politics; it's a total distraction from the real issues. Some people see the silliness of being one religion vs. another; you describe it well even though I don't know what the heck you were trying to convey.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  12. Jeekers

    While I understand the interest/concern about where our illustrious leader (gag) stands concerning Islam and it's push in NYC, what I am most concerned about is that we are $13 trillion in debt, and the number of unemployed persons is at 14.6 million, and the unemployment rate is still at 9.5 percent, and the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) is t 6.6 million, and that these individuals made up 44.9 percent of unemployed persons. Hey Barry, do your job you freakin empty suit.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:36 am |
  13. Aalan

    I guess this proves that a huge amount of Americans are incredibly stupid. Fox news has done it's job.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:36 am |
  14. Fr33d0mhawk

    Those 1 in 5 do not actually believe Obama is a Muslim. I would wager that only schziphrenics would think he is Muslim, the rest deliberately lie to themselves to justify their hatred of America, to have an excuse for their sedition, a reason to be a Christo-Taliban stooge. The problem with the Right Wing is that nearly half beg for their media leaders to tell any lie to foment hated and anger against the USA. If you all thought Al Qaeda was a threat to America, you have not seen anything yet until these Teabag nuts go wild. 1 in 5 polled are future Tim McVeighs, and because of this poll, our government needs to be prepared to defend democracy, defend the US Constitution from domestic terrorists who want to turn the USA into a North Korean Teabagger Utopia. 1 in 5 North Koreans think Kim Jung Il, is the messiah of God, the Korean Teabaggers version of David Koresh.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:35 am |
  15. mAKOM

    Obama is a Muslim. His actions confirm this. When he claimed he was a Christian during the election and tapes were later made public that showed Obama speaking to a Muslim group and stating' that he was raised a Muslim; was educated as a Muslim; and that he is still a Muslim– people said it didn't matter.
When people found out that Barrack Hussein Obama was enrolled as a Muslim child in school and his father and stepfather were both Muslims, people said it didn't matter.
When he wrote in another book he authored "I will stand with them (Muslims) should the political winds shift in an ugly direction," people said it didn't matter.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:35 am |
    • loulabelle216

      wow, could you give me a link to these "tapes"? i prefer looking at real evidence as opposed to blindly believing what fox news tells me.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:40 am |
    • Krista

      Link it. Show proof. If any of this were true every news network would have run it. The videos and 'tapes' would be available on thousands of sites. Or did you just 'hear' this and you're passing it on? It is, at the same time both amusing and disgusting to see that someone would believe anything negative that they hear about our President just because they want to believe it.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • RAD

      I have also seen the tapes where Obama has said in an interview on ABC that McCain did not make anything about Obama being a Muslim and then the interviewer corrected him and said " you mean you being a Christian". Also on the internet are speeches that he has made talking to the Arab world that his family was muslim and the "sweetest sound he has ever heard was the muslim call to prayer". If any of you critics really watched Fox news then you would know that Fox news does NOT say anything about Obama being muslim. In fact, they all say that he is a Christian.

      August 24, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  16. getagrip

    Of course, he's muslim. This is why he does not attend church like all former presidents. This man is a complete hoax. This man is taking America down a path of destruction.

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

      Path of destruction, like Bush/Cheney did ?

      August 19, 2010 at 8:52 am |
    • John PA

      As if "attending church" means a damn thing? Did Cheney attend church? If so, he must have spent a lot of time in the "Confessional". Keep religion out of politics; has not place there. Stick to the issues; we need solutions not theocracy. If you want a religious leader then.move to Iran and see how that works.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  17. willie

    Just listening to some of your comments.I do belive that one day we will have a religous war in america between the belivers and none belivers.Their are so many tragedys going on the World today that it is hard to belive their is a God.Their are Wars
    Earthquakes floods,Gang killings,Auto accidents,Plane Crashes.Why cant God save you from some of these everyday occurences.Why should god let 10,000 people be buried by and earthquake just to save 10.Just dont add up.I find a lot
    of People attend Church in hopes of getting a new car getting a pay raise,or remaing Healthy.If you think that these are
    the only important things in your life then you are very narrow minded.When you are sick dont go to the Doctor,and see
    what will happen to you.Wait for God to heal you.Every time I go to the Doctor with a serious Illness.I thank the Doctor
    ,and tell how much I appreciate the good care he gave to get me healthy.and back on my feet again.I am happy that medical
    companies have came up with medicine to extend my life by at least another 20 Years.With my long history of high Blood pressure. I should have been gone a long time ago.My point is that we as people need to stop worrying about who is and
    who is not a Christian,and live our lives as we want to,and respect other peoples way of thinking,no matter who faith you are,or claim to be

    August 19, 2010 at 8:32 am |
  18. nonesuch

    The people who believe Obama is Muslim are just plain dumb.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:32 am |
    • das0522

      Could it be because of his speaking out in favor of an Islamic "center" near Ground Zero, his director of NASA telling us the mission of the agency is to highlight Muslim contributions to math and science? Ya think??

      August 19, 2010 at 8:49 am |
    • VonMoore


      You FAIL at the Internets. Report yourself to the police as being too dumb for words. Don't worry, they'll know what you mean.

      August 19, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  19. Abe Normal

    One in 5 is a dummy according to my survey.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:31 am |
  20. Hitch22

    I undersatnd belief is important to a lot of people and they want to see that reflected in a President. However, there is the separation of church and state, right? I do not care what religion he practice as long as this country does not turn into a theocracy as some people in this country(read:Christians) would like to see happen. That is how I feel. There is a tendency in this country to equate fundamentalist/extremist Muslims with the religion of Islam as if they were one and the same. Being an US citizen I do not equate Pat Robertson and his devotees with the faith of Christianity. Great line from the movie "Traitor".."Every religion has two faces."

    August 19, 2010 at 8:31 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.