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. Hidden

    He lied to Billy Graham. He claims to believe in Jesus yet he allows abortion. He is doing so many things evil according to the Bible. What he is showing God is that he is a false prophet to the American people. He bows to another king saying that, "I am a good Muslim" is proof, because he was not referring to his nationality, which he still has guards blocking the hospital that contains his birth records, but to his faith in a false god than the Lord Jesus Christ. This country needs a leader who will walk in the steps of Jesus and obey God. God's teachings will "fix" this country, because "change" is not what is needed. Love him or hate him, he is a sinner we must pray for to find his heart opened to the wisdom of God.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:39 am |
    • Barry Soetoro

      Obama sounds like he is living the story line from the movie "The Omen". The anti-Christ does walk the Earth and now he is in The White House

      August 19, 2010 at 1:42 am |
    • Peter

      You're a sinner too. Maybe we should pray for you also.

      August 19, 2010 at 1:43 am |
    • Peter

      Actually, our country needs leaders who will defend the Constitution against those who would turn this country into a Christian or other kind of theocracy.

      August 19, 2010 at 1:57 am |
    • i, Jimbot

      You've been smoking something while watching Fox News if you believe what you typed.

      August 19, 2010 at 2:02 am |
    • Concerned

      Hidden, are you out on a day pass from the asylum? Please resume your meds...

      August 19, 2010 at 6:04 am |
    • Steve

      Well, Hidden, I can see you are worried about "change." I'm going to tell you something but maybe you should sit down first.

      Do you know who else is against change?

      wait for it............

      extremist Muslims.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:23 am |
    • jkatz

      to you all who think that to be Christian means to read the Bible literally, then if you ever spoke back to your parent(s), you are a wicked child and should be stoned to death! The wonderful thing God has given us is something called Free Will; the ability to make our own choices, right/wrong/indifferent, so we can learn from the consequences; it is a personal thing. So, if Obama thinks abortion is okay - depending on the individual's reasons - is between him and G-d, and nobody else. SO, unless you are "perfect," and have never broken the slightest of G-d's laws/rules/etc. then shut your mouth!

      August 19, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  2. He's A Closet Muslim

    What this poll does not elaborate on is that many people who say he is a Muslim KNOW that he has stated that he is a Christian. They just don’t believe him. He has lied about so many other things and been very sympathetic to Muslims without corresponding sympathy towards his own citizens. So it’s not that 21% of the country is simply “incorrect”. It is that 21% believe he is a Muslim in his heart.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:39 am |
    • sunsohot

      you idiot; Muslims are part of "his country" as are quite a selection of other faiths

      August 19, 2010 at 1:42 am |
    • i, Jimbot

      "He's lied about so many other things..."

      Such as?

      August 19, 2010 at 2:01 am |
    • CTYank

      Ever hear Gandhi's reply to a question about his beliefs? Said he: I'm a Muslim, I'm a Hindu, I'm a Jew, I'm a Christian.
      Let's grow past the petty divisive crap someday soon.

      August 19, 2010 at 3:40 am |
    • JK Smalley

      He's "sympathic" to Muslims because he's trying to take the bite out of the Taliban anger. He's a great politician and you don't even know how great.

      August 20, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  3. StevieBoy

    As long as our president doesn't think like a Christian I'm good with that!!

    August 19, 2010 at 1:39 am |
  4. Stranger in a strange land

    Its amazing how stupid Americans have become. Forget test scores..if you want a real indictment of the educational system in this nation, just look at the percentage that claim he wasnt born in the US and that he isnt Christian. We have become a nation of blowhards, and it seems that just by repeating something long enough on right wing nut job TV shows, people will start believing it. We are in big trouble when we cant differentiate between fact and fiction.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:38 am |
    • wat

      They arent the same? fact is different from fiction? OMG!

      August 19, 2010 at 2:25 am |
    • rik

      Please turn off MSNBC. Your posts will be much more intelligent.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:18 am |
    • DONNA

      A Stranger..Sometimes you can't fix stupid....They're going to go to their graves believing this nonsense and then try to convince their dead neighbors it's true too.

      August 19, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  5. dw4yne

    What ever happened to separation of church and state? Who gives a crap what religion he is? Religion is for unintelligent fools that can't think for themselves. They live in a fairy tale land of invisible friends and magical happenings. Sounds like a J.K Rollings book.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:38 am |
    • HarryPotter


      August 19, 2010 at 2:22 am |
  6. Joe Nunya

    Personally, I would rather him be Agnostic. Impartial, but able to view all sides. Fair. Unlike the "Religious Right". Muslim Fundamentalism and Christian Fundamentalism have one thing in common...Both scare the crap out of me. My bet is fundamentalism will be the trigger for WWIII.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:38 am |
  7. sunsohot

    if CNN insists on taking nonsensical polls, they need to add the "who cares" option; bet they'd find out how important and informative their polls are 🙂

    August 19, 2010 at 1:37 am |
    • Dax

      The question wouldn't matter because they seem to only ask the same select group of pin heads

      August 19, 2010 at 2:00 am |
  8. kuate

    CNN... I love you but you let me down this time. Silly article.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:36 am |
  9. DaveM710

    There are a lot of really stupid/delusional people in America and the right wing panders to them. Professional wrestling anyone? How about Glen Beck? It's frightening to think how many Americans think the President was not born an American., it's like the people who cannot find America on a map of the world. Just as dumb as a bag of hammers.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:36 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      Well, I have a use for a bag of hammers. So they are of less value than that.

      August 19, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      @Selfish Gene

      Going to hammer a few commies? };>

      August 19, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  10. Kevin

    Does CNN really not have anything more to report on besides than the fevered delirious paranoia of idiots?

    August 19, 2010 at 1:36 am |
    • thetruthhurts


      August 19, 2010 at 2:17 am |
  11. bobo

    I love to hear all the secularist get all up tight when the subject of religion is mentioned. They live in this idealistic bubble thinking this country was not founded on Christian moral principles. Nothing like hearing you all bash your left wing CNN.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:35 am |
    • drinker

      I love to hear all the christians get all up tight when the subject of religion is mentioned. They live in this idealistic bubble thinking this country was founded on Christian moral principles.

      August 19, 2010 at 1:59 am |
    • i, Jimbot

      I love to hear Christians who feel that they alone somehow own these "values" that they feel are Christian. These values were around long before Christ and his followers. Get over yourself.

      August 19, 2010 at 1:59 am |
    • mahboobeh

      I love to hear the sound of one hand fapping my response.

      August 19, 2010 at 2:15 am |
    • Chris R

      The founders would argue that this isn't a christian nation and was not founded on the principles of Christianity. In fact, from the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796 ""As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen;" This treaty was negotiated by John Barlow, read aloud to congress, approved unanimously, and endorsed by John Adams. Many of the founders were only nominally christian and referred to themselves as Deists. The principles they founded the nation on were the ideals of the Enlightenment, notably Locke, Montesquieu, Hobbes, and Voltaire.

      So please, as a fellow christian, please keep our religion out of politics. Okay? Faith is a personal matter between yourself and God. Christ advocated a withdrawal from the machinations of politics and other concerns of that sort. I feel as Christians we should be focused on our personal salvation and the support of those around us – just like Christ said we should be.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
    • Selfish Gene

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

      I don't see jesus in the Bill of Rights. Not once.

      god does not appear once in the Const1tut1on.
      go ahead. google it.

      Only in the Declaration of Independence. And even then, not in the early drafts.


      August 19, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  12. Kelly

    The stupidity of Americans never ceases to amaze.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:35 am |
  13. Edie Walker

    Who cares!!!! I am really getting sick of the Christian right and the utter ignorant intolerance that is out there. It is no ones business how our President worships or if he does at all.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:34 am |
  14. DB

    Who the hell cares? My goodness CNN, you have wasted considerable resources on this report. Please report on news, not on irrelevant polls that do nothing but divert attention away from serious, critical issues of the day. On this issue, I care to have a competent president. I could care less what religion they practice. Even if Obama was a Muslim, that is his right, and should be respected. The true question here is if CNN has written this article in an attempt to fill the void of real journalism or the citizens of this country are so lost that this story is actually what people want to hear rather than something important.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:34 am |
  15. PD

    Shame on you America, you're too ignorant. A man should only prove his faith to god and god alone. Did they forget about his controversial old pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. He was a nut but still a Christian, so is the right trying to associate him with a radical christian and Islam? Which is it? It's like when people called him a Fascist and a Socialist, they're on opposite ends of the political spectrum you can't be both.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:33 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      And keep government out of Medicare! Don't take our Jobs! Maverick!

      August 19, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  16. Joe Nunya

    He is on record as "Christian". So your poll is useless. There are a whole slew of folks that think he was not born here, who think he is the Antichrist, Who think he is a socialist...Point is, if you continue to "poll" the same 200 inbred republican morons from Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama that cannot turn off Faux News, then your "poll" is useless. Much like you are becoming.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:32 am |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Actually Reagan was the anti-christ. 666 ];> (<-sarcasm for those who can't recognize it)

      August 19, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  17. E

    1) I'm certainly glad polls don't actually determine religion. I prefer to worship freely (or not at all, as the case may be) according to my own personal choice, not according to a capricious whim of the uneducated, misled, masses.

    2) Even if he was, what does it matter?

    August 19, 2010 at 1:32 am |
  18. Sid

    Americans cannot stop being idiots and narrow-minded. When will this obsession with Christianity end? What if he is agnostic? What if he is a Muslim? What is needed is a good and intelligent President than an idiot Christian (which is 99%) of US population.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:30 am |
    • LaGryphon

      99% of the population is Christian? Then why the hell even stay here if it that offensive to you?

      August 19, 2010 at 1:57 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      Obama is Muslim in secret and he is going to withdraw the US Armies from the muslim lands and bring peace to Palestine!!

      hmmm, just what America needed!! why did nt they elect a muslim 20 years ago?

      August 19, 2010 at 5:35 am |
    • deuce

      if us americans are so stupid your free to leave and see what other countries citizens have to endure. Maybe you'll get stoned or thrown in jail for voicing your opinion. Yea, americans are terrible, idiot

      August 19, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  19. Again

    Does it matter what religion the President is, really? Let's just get the economy back, the troops home (not enough yet) and enjoy the life we have. I know I will continue to enojoy mine. And yes, I'm a Republican and we all should just chill out on who does what, last time I checked nobody is perfect in this country......

    August 19, 2010 at 1:30 am |
    • E


      August 19, 2010 at 1:36 am |
    • LaGryphon


      August 19, 2010 at 1:55 am |
    • Monte

      This is this down to earth thinking that we need to focus on way too many are lost on these "Wedge Issues" once we have 4% unemployment and the security of the New Economy take root (green or other) people stop caring about politicians and live their life happily, isn't that the point.
      If everyone is so concerned with religion go watch 'Don't mess with the Zohan' to get some perspective. America is not the place where we should care about these issues – and people come from all around the globe because of that.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:19 am |
    • keith

      You might be a republican, but not a conservative. Obama's ideology is tearing this country apart and you want to "chill out"? I'm sure Obama appreciates your apathy.

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

      Keith – It is not Obama that is tearing this country apart. Obama does not benefit from the division. The conservatives who are out of pwoer and desperately desperately trying to get back into power are the ones who benefit from the anger.

      The fact that YOU HATE Obama does not make Obama divisive.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:07 am |
  20. muhrvis

    Sad how many Americans are ignorant, willfully uneducated, and believe any distortion or outright garbled nonsense they hear on television. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News have won.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:29 am |
    • DB

      I agree. Truly a sad state of affairs. I think the public has been molded into a docile bunch of lemmings. All we need now is a dictatorship.

      August 19, 2010 at 1:37 am |
    • LaGryphon

      Have they really? How so? He's still the President isn't he?

      August 19, 2010 at 1:53 am |
    • LaGryphon

      Dictatorship? Do you think the people of Germany knew in the midst of the Hitler years when he was so charismatic what he really was? I wonder

      August 19, 2010 at 1:54 am |
    • Steve-GDI

      Mainstream media is not to blame for non-issues like whether the President is Christian or Muslim. BS E-MAILs that flood my inbox from pseudo-news groups passing themselves off as journalists; That's the real source of this junk-news. Believing what you read in an e-mail from some blogger, or basing your beliefs on a wikipedia article is just as ignorant as putting on a robe and burning a cross.
      I didn't vote for President Obama in '08, and might not vote for him next time either, but his religious persuasion will not be the determining factor. Here's a statistic made up on the spot, but is likely completely true: 0 in 912 of those discussing this here, would be unable to take his job and do any better than he has so far.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:30 am |
    • kr

      Well said!

      August 19, 2010 at 11:45 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.