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. big Dave

    Look in his own book........He wrote- If an political ill wind blows I will stand with tne Muslims.......is that clear enough for ya!!

    August 19, 2010 at 8:58 am |
  2. KevT

    I've officially become embarrassed to be an American. We have become the antithesis of our very ideals. We are a raciest, anti-education, closed society. Welcome to the dark ages.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:58 am |
  3. Centex

    The ability of the average American to be mis-informed never ceases to amaze me. The same idiots who think our current President is a muslim are the ones who believed our last President (Bush, for those of you too stupid to know that) actually cared about the average American. They also believe he was a Christian...

    August 19, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  4. Gwen

    To all of the republicans on this post...Mitt Romney is not a Christian...he's a mormon...When he runs for president, is that going to make a difference to you?....If he gets elected, there may be more than one first lady in the white house if that's ok with you.....

    August 19, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  5. nate

    The 1 in 5 the poll refers to is the Fox News audience, so no real credibility in their responces to poll.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  6. Susan Pound

    Hello America: Just because CNN reports, it doesn't mean its true. They haven't reported NEWS for years.. Shades of the 1950s, Remember the 50s, just because it was in print, didn't make it true.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  7. Nate from Atlanta

    Obama could be an atheist for all I care. I just want him to fix this economy and start pulling troops out of the Middle East.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  8. louee

    I'd say 1 in 5 Americans are total idiots, but I'm sure the number is higher. As is proven by some of the completely absurd anti-Obama comments posted here that your stupid article attracted.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  9. George

    It's sad that there are so many stupid people in America. The conservative right, traitors to America, are to blame.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  10. Beth

    What does it matter, really? I dont believe he is Muslim but if he is.. so what? Faith is personal. Not all who are Muslim are terrorists, just like all terrorists arent Muslim.

    However, just to point out something. The median has coined this building as the Ground Zero Mosque. It's NOT a mosque and it's not anywhere near Ground Zero. It's the upper floor of an already existing community center that will be used as a worship center. And it's 4-6 blocks from Ground Zero, so far away that it cant even be seen from GZ and you cant see GZ from it.

    There's already a mosque within 2 blocks of Ground Zero that's been there longer than the World Trade Center was there but you dont see people demanding it be torn down. This is all just political hype to keep the hatred going. People say it's going to be a terrorist training ground. The center teaches culinary skills.. COOKING.

    Yes.. the next terrorist weapon will be an Angel Food Cake with strawberries and fresh whipped cream...

    And another thing. He's legitimately the President. He was born in Hawaii. Even the Republican governor of Hawaii has certified the birth certificate as authentic. So, yeah, get over it.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  11. Sarah

    In my lastest poll results, only 1 out of 5 Americans are able to think freely for themselves, the other 4 are lemmings.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:54 am |
    • Manny

      Translation : One out of five Americans make things up, and are ignorant enough to believe it 🙂

      August 19, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  12. Jim

    Well, 1 in 5 Americans truly hate our President and hope we start hating him, too. Painting him as a Muslim makes him easier to hate, in their minds helps excuse the awful vitriol they direct toward him, and they hope it sows fear among the weak-minded. Sadly, its a tactic that's working when, in fact, it shouldn't matter what his religion is. This is America, where you don't have to be a member of the ruling religion to advance your position in life.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  13. Daniel

    This is an accurate representation of the problem with the American school system. Even if Obama's birth certificate was shown to people, they would think that it was digitally crafted. 1 in 5 people are prone to believe what their intuition is, while simultaneously denying all available evidence and facts. I say let these people be dumb – they make good footsodliers on the front lines.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  14. Sarah

    Manny @ August 19, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Don't confuse the stupid opinions of some American's as being the view of ALL Americans, nor does the media represent America's views... they represent the opinions by which they get the most ratings and viewership.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  15. swede2

    According to the Wikipedia: Stupidity is the lack of intelligence, understanding, reason, wit, or sense. An idiot, dolt, or dullard is a mentally deficient person, or someone who acts in a self-defeating or significantly counterproductive way. A dunce is an idiot who is specifically incapable of learning. An idiot differs from a fool (who is unwise) and an ignoramus (who is uneducated/ an ignorant), neither of which refer to someone with low intelligence. It would be comforting to think that the 20% who insist that Obama is a muslim (1/3 of them conservative Republicans) are just fools or ignoramuses, but probably idiots and dunces acting stupidly seems to be the more accurate description.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  16. RL

    These are the people that believed in death panels and the viability of Palin as a candidate too...what does that tell you?

    August 19, 2010 at 8:51 am |
  17. Jenni

    It is embarrassing and scary how uninformed Americans are. These people are going to be voting in November, and again in 2012, and will presumably be basing their votes on nothing more than propaganda, lies, and rumors. If the statistics in this article are true, I am ashamed of 66% of my country (especially the 20% who believe he's Muslim – those folks need to pick up a book or newspaper every now and then.)

    August 19, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  18. Carl

    Obama is an athiest in Christian clothing. He thinks he is "too smart" to truly believe in a creator, which supports his reasoning behind thinking the Constitution, written by a bunch of old white Christians, is flawed. He attends church often enough to try to convince others that he's a believer. The only thing Obama believes in is Obama.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:48 am |
  19. cjdegl

    It makes no difference to me whatever religion he is. What is important is that he leads our Nation and I think he is doing a fine job.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  20. Mark from Bragg

    Only a few points.
    For all of you who never been to NYC, I want you to understand that this 'Hallowed Ground' which many of you are so adamant on keeping sacred has 2 strip clubs and a adult shop in its vicinity. It was never sacred, you gave it that connotation after the Trade Center went down for no one ever cared the businesses which were facilitated on the property in it and around it.
    Secondly, if this was another church or synagogue placed on this land, not a single word would utter from any of your mouths, yet this Christian ideal which all of you claim bears in part from your own Christ is to not judge and to love your fellow man, which those in America forgot to place into action. It is a place of worship, which later has been turned into a community center, and this is what you fear?

    It is your fear which is making you make these decisions, as well as your ignorance towards other faiths, and mob mentality when you have the two together. The President made the statement because it is a house of worship, and there is nothing wrong with one being built. The same thought process which all of you are using is similar to the Catholic Church building more churches in order to forward the goals of the pedophile ministers which they constantly move from parish to parish once they are exposed. It is literally that ignorant.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:47 am |
    • Axlotl

      @Mark from Bragg

      What? Wrong thread, Mark. 😛

      August 19, 2010 at 9:38 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.