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. Kate

    Wow America is stupid, Im so.. moving to Canada.
    Thank god i like hockey

    August 19, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  2. Dina

    Why is the most powerful nation in the world filled with so many stupid people? So far he saved all your butts from a full bore depression, and now your sick children cannot be denied health care. Have a little gratitude and a little less stupid. He's not a muslim, he is an American, and for a change we have a smart president. Don't let that scare you.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  3. Dan G.

    It's amazing how many Islamic terrorist supporters post here on CNN, not to mention the non-muslim anti Christian crowd. May be most people are down on Islam because it appears to be behind most of the current conflicts around the world from North Africa to Asia not to mention almost every terrorist act on this planet.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  4. JohnLock

    So what if he's muslim. That was his job to stand up for the constitution. This shouldnt even be a topic of discussion. We should get over our islamophobia.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:26 am |
  5. loulabelle216

    can we hear more about the actual poll? how many were surveyed? where did they live? male or female? what are their backgrounds? i cannot stand it when the "news" just spits out number and percentages and just assumes we'll all eat them up because that's what the "poll" said. i can't begin to tell you how easy it is to find a "poll" someone did somewhere and skew it so it makes headlines. put some facts to back up you r"reporting" cnn, and more people will take you seriously.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:25 am |
    • lilrdvet2

      Why wouldn't we "just eat them up"? We eat up every other lie that is spewed out as fact in this country...just look how popular Fox News, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are...nothing they say can be believed...yet I'd be willing to bet the 1 in 5 from this poll are all fans of the above...people want to be spoon fed all their information because they're too lazy to investigate it themselves...how many people believe the world will end December of 2012? Or that we never went to the moon?...see what I mean...LOL

      August 19, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  6. lilrdvet2

    See? It's things like this that prove just how stupid and gullible we Americans are!...we will buy into any and all lies and conspiracy theories made up by the "other" side to make the "other" side look bad or scary...case in point...Bush won re-election based on the majority wanting "change"...change to out dated, RADICAL Christain principles...what did we get?...more of the same and a country that went into two wars based on nothing by lies and scare tactics...and this country bought all of that administration's lies hook, line and sinker and now the lies of people like Palin and those involved in the "Tea Party" (LOL)...and guess what? Those same people that spoon fed you all that BS...are the same people telling you lies and trying to scare you now...DON'T...BE...STUPID...AGAIN...

    August 19, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  7. W

    Robert (who suggested a CNN reader survey would be more accurate than the Pew survey) – as a social scientist, I need to take issue with this. Pew is a well-respected polling organization with the expertise and technology to engage in random sampling of the U.S. population. CNN reader polls are *not* nearly as reliable. The people who choose to participate in reader polls are not a random sample of the U.S. population, or even of CNN.com's readership ... Polls all have faults, but if you need to make an important decision, go with the Pew poll rather than the CNN reader poll.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  8. Frogist

    I disagree with people who are saying this poll is irrelevant. Unfortunately public opinion about religion drives this country to an extent that is sickening. Even though we are a secular democracy, people vote according to their perceived ideas about religious background. This poll also speaks to the wealth of misinformation being transmitted like a virus. I wish there was some debunking of the idea that the president is muslim, and some commentary on why religion is specifically not required as a prerequisite to the presidency in the article though. What I am taking from this is we should do our best to find out where this misinformation is coming from and figure out how to counter it. The first step is knowledge. Now we know what we as a nation are up against. It is our duty to act against it.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  9. Bob

    I am so ready to vote this guy out of office.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  10. Yada Yada1

    The notion that one in five people believe that President Obama is a Muslim ought not be surprising. America has a high level of ignorance.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  11. D.P.

    OK so 1 out of every 5 Americans are retarded sorry but they made me say this!!! I don't won't Catholic churches near a playground, and no more fundamentalist christian churches next to abortion clinics it might make me remember what that faith has done to the community haha!!! You don't need to be Muslim to know that most Muslims here do not share common ground with terrorism idiots!!! Ask the Russians about terrorist and they will point to Europe as well as the middle east!!! Go study then make decisions until then stop blabbing about something you don't know!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  12. Nabi

    please check out http://www.islamicsolutions.com/islam-a-quick-introduction/

    August 19, 2010 at 9:22 am |
    • lilrdvet2

      Ok...I read that page on the Introduction...by all accounts....radical Muslims do not practice the Islamic laws...so I guess they're all going to Hell...that's good...because I'd hate to think the bad ones of other religions are the only ones that will be there...it just figures that a bunch of old, twisted religious leaders would teach their followers a bunch of lies about what their "God" really wants them to do and what is expected of them...sounds a lot like Christianity...religion corrupts more than it saves...

      August 19, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  13. Brett Favre

    I would have thought the percentage would have been higher. The percentage of idiots is higher than one in five..

    August 19, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  14. Ruxana

    We believe that Obama is a Muslim and we are being call: ignorant, idiots, stupid by people that are only expressing their opinions. We believe he is a muslim not because it is our opinion but by his action, what he says and what he does. I think that is not stupid ignorant or idiot. Just get informed. The Koran says: 9:5 "Fight and kill the disbeliever wherever you find them". Of course we have to be concerned about what he believe. (we are the disbeliver)

    August 19, 2010 at 9:22 am |
    • Rob

      Your grammar matches the level of intelligence behind your opinion.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  15. i2i

    It was both inaccurate and reckless for FOX to claim Obama is "not" a Muslim. First, there is more circumstantial evidence to support the theory that he is indeed, Muslim, and second, the man is a consummate politician - clever, power hungry, and wildly ambitious. He himself admitted that while still in college, he set himself the goal of becoming president of the United States. Add to that his radical leftist associations and track record of deception and broken promises, and we can justifiably conclude that Obama would do anything, say anything, to achieve his goal. Is Obama a Muslim? 60-Percent of us believe he is certainly no Christian.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  16. KTW

    Separation of Church and State anyone? It doesn't matter what his religion is, except to those ignorant Americans who think the only people who could possibly have the ability to lead are the ones who think exactly the same as they do. If all Americans thought the way these people thought, this country would have no hope. He's a Christian...and if he wasn't...it wouldn't change anything, because religion is a private matter to him and to many public figures. Just because GW and McCain spout religious banter in every other line of their public appearances doesn't make them more religious or more worthy to lead.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  17. jboh

    The deep-seated, hateful opinions based on false info is frightening. The last time I saw this mean spirted, "I've made up my mind, don't confuse me with the facts" attitude on the right, people died over politics. The GOP should be embarassed to be pushing the unAmerican hate mongering directed at Muslims. GOP/TEA/KKK militias, propagandists, oath keepers, ect, are a far greater terror risk in America.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  18. Yada Yada1

    The notion that one in five Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim is not surprising. America has a high level of ignorance and mis-information. Just watch Jay Leno when he interviews people on the street and you'll be amazed.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  19. Pete

    The numers are in; One in five American is a moron....

    August 19, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  20. Vesi

    Even if he was Muslim, what the hell does that has to do with being a good or bad president? Some Americans are just looking for excuses to not like him, they can't get over that he was elected by the majority of the voters (unlike his predecessor).

    August 19, 2010 at 9:19 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.