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. Isaiah3322

    There are certainly no signs in the president's actions, words, or lifestyle that he is a Christian. It would appear he is probably a Muslim. Or atheist. Please pray for him and his family . . . and for our country.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:08 am |
    • Uncle Funk

      By that logic, my best friend must also be Muslim!!! You're a tard, go to school and take logic 101.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  2. Reality

    No, BO is not a Muslim or a Christian. What is he then? The leader of the Immoral Majority i.e. those 72 million "mothers" and "fathers" of the 36 million aborted babies who now make-up the largest voting bloc in the USA!!!!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:07 am |
  3. LEB

    Frankly, who cares what religion the president practices? It's not important as long as it does not interfere with his job.

    What's wrong with people? Especially the media. Let's get away from Twitter-type reporting. Thanks.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  4. Jean-Texas

    Yes, and 9 out of 10 people thought George Bush was right to start a war with Iraq-–so much for public opinion. People believe what they want and refuse to let the real FACTS get in there way. That would require way to much research. Much easier to let some one tell you what you want to hear.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  5. adam guerrero

    he did say during an interview, "my muslim faith," didn't he? that's probably not slip of tongue b/c so many words were involved. usually, when someone stumbles over words, it's just 1, maybe 2 max, but 3 together w/ such an important message seems suspicious. now they're building mosques in ny city, near 911. it all seems a bit fishy, if you ask me.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  6. Jennifer

    New poll – 4 out of 5 Americans think 20% of fellow Americans are idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  7. NH4Paws

    Who cares! I dont care if he worships the Spagetti God! As long as he is leading our country...who cares

    August 19, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  8. Willy

    Wow. 1 in 5 Americans are morons.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:05 am |
  9. R.D. in Oklahoma

    One in five Americans are retarded and do not understand freedom of religion.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:05 am |
    • NH4Paws


      August 19, 2010 at 9:06 am |
    • Suz

      You beat me to it!!

      August 19, 2010 at 9:26 am |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    He is obviously, whatever is convenient for him, at the moment.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  11. ruth

    You would have to pretend to be a Christian or be a Christian to be elected in the US. Many think he is pretending and is Islamic at heart.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  12. Stephen

    This is hilarious beyond belief! Most entertainment that I have had in weeks. CNN should charge money to read these responses...I would pay...:)

    August 19, 2010 at 9:02 am |
  13. Margroks

    This is truly stupid, right up there with people who whine about Obama not being an American citizen. Birthers and these folks lack the capacity to understand the most minimal facts. Even John McCain, while on the campaign trail stopped and took the time to tell one of his moronic supporters that she was wrong in thinking Obama was Muslim.

    As for the pastor of his former congrgation, yes he said things Obama didn't agree with and he left that church. What more do you want? Have you never had a relative who was nice to you but treated some minority with contempt? It happens all the time. If you maintain contact you may one day help them see the error of their ways but sometimes a point comes at whcih you have to give up adn Obama did.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  14. Guest

    That same 1 in 5 can tell you every little detail about the WWE crew(s) though – how sad

    August 19, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  15. Sugarmama

    Good job, America. Don't let facts get in the way of your precious, beloved prejudices!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  16. Sean

    President Obama has conducted himself professionally. He speaks clearly in a public forum and has graduated from Columbia and Harvard. These factors make me feel he is very intelligent. Higher intelligence is correlated with atheism.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  17. Ruxana

    In one of his books The President said, I do not remember exactly, that if the time comes and he had to decide for or against Muslims, he said that he will always be in the Moslims side. I read It. He grew up in a radical Muslim school, her step sister that grew up with him was a muslim, all his family in Kenya are Muslims. Will he be anything else? This christian connection is a coverup of his true feeling. Remember he refused to celebrate the National Day of Prayer but celebrate with muslims leader the begining of Ramadan. What does it tell you? The 20 years prior to be elected president he was attending an anti-american church, remember? Nothing to be surprised about.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:59 am |
    • Rob

      If you had actually read one of his books, and not just paraphrased what you heard on some Conservative blog, you would know how ridiculously dumb you sound. You conservatives have no regard for context, EVER. And never in any of his books did he say anything like that. Get a life.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:43 am |
    • Duyen

      Anonymous August 3, 2010 You did the right thing. I wpuild have done the same and even more than that. I would ahve sppelad his face with my id.He deserves it for not only being stupid but irresponsible.Don't ever feel guilty for such persons.And I will not aologize. He should know better.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  18. Dan

    Who cares if hes muslim, christian, or atheist? Come on people get over it and stop crying.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:58 am |
  19. butlerbulldawg74

    in other news, half of all people have an IQ of less than 100. Who cares anyway? Christians want freedom of religion, so long as its their religion.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:58 am |
  20. Jim

    20% of the population is ignorant and easily manipulated. No wonder this country is so religious, it's crawling with imbeciles. Shock the $#!+ out of me every day.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:58 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.