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. macbaldy

    People who insisted on a Kenyan birth couldn't explain away that our POTUS' mother never visited Africa, so they've turned their zeal to another desperate rant, as if this somehow has any significance.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  2. johnnyhouse

    I think opinions have changed since, in a speech a few weeks back he made a slip of the tongue in one of his speeches he had never made before.I feel the media caught it also but let it slide. He has not forgotten his time in school when his teachers taught him well. The word Muslim was the tip.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  3. Melissa

    I don't care what he is I don't like him or what he is doing to our country. He doesn't seem to care about the American people or what the want. It's all about him and his agenda.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:17 am |
    • Rob

      People who think like you do not equal the "American People". The people who support what he is doing don't need to be loud and vocal about it at this time.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  4. Luke

    I suppose this makes sense. Around 20% of the population is functionally illiterate.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  5. Marie S.

    Wow, 1 in 5 Americans are more ignorant than I thought.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  6. edgarX

    Never underestimate the ignorance of the American people.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  7. The Observer

    He is a muslim, he is a socialist, and he is in fact trying to fundamentally change the country from what we want it to be.The People elect the candidate that reflects their attitude toward the country at the time. Americans felt hatred toward the government during the election, so intuitively, we inadvertently elected a man that hates, and has always hated, the American government as well. You get what you put out into the universe. His infiltration into the American Presidency is not his fault, it is our own.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  8. bigfruitbasket

    "Don't confuse me with the facts, I already have my mind made up." :/ (sarcasm intended)

    August 19, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  9. PlayNice

    1 in 5 Americans also believe that anthrax is a place in Australia.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  10. david

    He admits to being muslim, we just don't know where this alien was born. We may have the Antichrist as our chief?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:14 am |
    • Rob

      Are you a troll, or are you really that brainwashed and ignorant?

      August 19, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  11. Madlove4ya

    To the 20% that believes President Obama is a muslim, what planet have you been living on? It's sad, that given the extensive news coverage and discussion, this type of ignorance still permeates our society. Frankly, what difference does it make? Last I recall, this is a free country and freedom of religion is a Right guarentted to all........unless you happen to be a Muslim.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:13 am |
    • Ruxana

      Please read the Koran. 9:5 you will understand why we are concerned about the President being a Muslim.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  12. LC

    This is B.S., cnn. You will put anything negative you can locate about this President.
    If You had been on Bush & Chenny like this, we would'nt be in the mess we are in.
    Shame on you.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:13 am |
    • nope

      its because he's black and he doesn't have the same sick twisted interpretation of the bible as a lot of these bigots do.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  13. Cindy

    Well, if this wasn't so ridiculous and a wee bit scary it would be utterly hilarious. Who cares if he is muslim??
    There are some seriously ill informed, hateful people out there. So very sad.
    I thought the election of a black president was an amazing thing in the US, a country still so divided by race and hate, but I think if anything it has just made the US seem like an even scarier, stranger place. Honestly people, I have to wonder if people really believe the nonsense they are spewing or if they are just doing it to get a rise out of people.
    In a country like the US, I thought colour, race, religion are things that were not suppose to matter?? Ohh, that was just talk.:(

    August 19, 2010 at 9:12 am |
    • Cindy

      PS, What is even sadder is, that credible news organization give nonsense like this coverage, if they didn't, it would probably fizzle out and disappear, as it should.
      Perhaps a good question is WHY does this receive any attention in the first place?? Leave this to the blogger heads and Conspiracy websites, where it should be. Not on CNN.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  14. David in Houston

    I couldn't care less if Obama is a Christian or a Muslim. There isn't a 'religious test' to become president. This whole idea that Muslim = Evil is extremely unchristian.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  15. HB

    It seems to me that a person could very well be Christian but also support separation of church and state. In fact, not only does this seem reasonable, but also required for a public official, if we are to follow the tenets set forth by our founding fathers. Obama's statements regarding the ground-zero mosque, his cancellation of the the Day of Prayer, and his privacy regarding the elements of his faith seem *completely* in line with this. So stop condemning the president for these comments and actions and act like the Americans you ought to be - practice your religion in peace and stop letting your religion rule the law of the land. And for God's sake, start showing some element of unity for your president. All this bickering and divisiveness just empowers those who live to break down and destroy the American way!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  16. Uncle Funk

    One in five Americans have their heads up their butts. That's a very conservative number, btw. As for the mosque, what's he supposed to say? It's legal. It's not wise or desirable, but it's legal and they are "insensitive" enough to take full advantage of that. We, as citizens, need to raise the hue and cry to stop this from happening. It's clearly an attempt to rub salt in the fresh wound.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  17. ObvUsername

    If this was actually journalism, they'd probably have mentioned that there is an active disinformation campaign on this issue, trying to characterize Obama as a foreigner. Since when do your political opponents get to declare YOUR religious affiliation?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  18. garc

    Remember the Rev. Wright controversy? How could a person be attending church (Christian) and be a Muslim too? I cannot get over the stupidity that has taken over this country.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:10 am |
    • Stephen

      Depends on your definition of "attending"...:) Apparantly he only atended a couple days a year considering that he seemed to miss every one of Rev. Wrights charmingly open-minded sermons.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  19. bobby

    Considering he is a closet Muslim, this comes as no surprise.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:09 am |
  20. Kevin

    Obama didn't cancel the National Day of Prayer. That is still another lie spread by the media: http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/prayerday.asp

    How could so many people be so willingfully ignorant? What is happening to this country?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:08 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.