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. Jim Bob

    OMG how stupid are Americans. BHO should be judged on the quality of his work, not cartoonish theatrics.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  2. Lori

    It is so ridiculous...but in the words of Colin Powell...and, so what if he was????!!!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  3. Bobster

    If you are born of a Muslim parent (Obama Sr. was Muslim) then you are Muslim – for life. Even if you adopt another religion later. So Barry Soetoro alias Barack Hussein Obama will ALWAYS be a Muslim. That's just a fact.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  4. Shelley

    Obama is a Muslim,whats so hard to figure out about that ? He is a closet Muslim and will come out when the time is right.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  5. religulous

    Ever wonder how many lives would have been saved and wars not started if there were no religions or (less severe) religious fanatics?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  6. mary

    Your polls are bogus and bad science, no science really. You and other media keeping pushing this bogus issue to sell airtime. You in fact are creating the issue and influencing erroneous and bigoted public opinion. You and other media by your sensationalist, inflammatory and poor journalism in the name of media competition and profit are undermining our government, our society and the capacity of our President to lead and govern. Cut it out, give it up and try being responsible for a change by just reporting the facts instead of fanning the flames and spewing your constant commentary and opinions. Thanks.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  7. E.P.

    DirtyFerre, you’re either misinformed or a liar. Obama has NEVER said that he was Muslim.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  8. Julie C

    Yes, they're the same ones who think the world is flat....big surprise! Isn't this old news? Are we proud that we have ignorant nutcakes in our country? And, so what if he was a Muslim? I thought this country was based on religious freedom? Their bigotry continues to scream as much as they just hate that label, they can't help themselves from earning it every day. And you CNN, can't seem to quit reporting on this crap. It must be election time; time for GOP distractions.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  9. Linda

    One in Five, Ignorant, Dumb A** Redneck, Poll Says

    August 19, 2010 at 9:44 am |
  10. Robert Austin

    The 1 in 5 also believe Obama was born in Africa, Glenn Beck is an intellectual and that big cororations have our best interests at heart. What this article says is that 1 in 5 Americans have serious personality disorders and should seek treatmentt. My question is why does CNN and the rest of the tabloid media give them so much credibility? Why glorify the mentally deficient?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:43 am |
    • Julie C

      You are so right! Thanks.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:46 am |
    • Mathew Joseph

      could not have said it any better.
      I am relieved that are still people who can think and rationalize.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  11. Chopswell

    So much for separation of Church & State. And what's this I recently heard that he was spotted doing the muslim 'kneel' with his shoes off, pointing east and bouncin' his nose off the floor with some other, prominent muslims? I don't have a source...But I don't believe it's simply hearsay.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  12. Mathew Joseph

    Just shows that one in five of the people who were polled are just ignorant. Well that probably goes for most of the republicans, not that the democrats are any better either. Just consider all those dumb people who are dumbfounded by Sarah Palin's intelligence!!! (oxymoron). I guess these probable one third of the population is not the ones who made this country great.

    Ignorance is bliss, but only for the people who are ignorant. May be we should herd them all to Montana

    August 19, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  13. nonimouse

    I feel like we're living in the 50s or 60s, soon they'll send dogs after muslims and get them with the fire-hose. Muslims will have separate drinking fountains and be forced to the back of the bus.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:40 am |
    • Chopswell

      Naaa. Nothing like that. Once they get all the illegal hispanix outta AZ, they'll just bus them all there. They're used to desert climate anyway. Only thing that really bothers me though is they're shipping out all the cattle now and bringing in camels!

      August 19, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  14. Waylon

    These polls just show how stupid americans are. The fact that even 10% think that our president is something he is not and proven not, just shows how lazy, ignorant, and stuborn we are as a nation. Just like the poll about a Obama born in america. I think it was like 25% of republicans polled didnt even consider Hawaii a state. AMERICAN IDIOTS!!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:39 am |
    • Mathew Joseph

      Agree with you 100 %.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  15. Acaraho

    I don't find this article as meaningful. When you think about it, probably 90% of the general American public is one of more of the following: uneducated, uninformed, prejudiced, self-centered, or disinterested. When you have a population of mostly aloof people, they will choose to believe whatever they want regardless of whether it's based upon reality.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:39 am |
  16. whiskeytangofoxtrot

    man, when did america get so stupid? the sleeping giant of WW2 woke up, was awesome for a few decades, and is now slurping down biggie size super-slushies and half-pound burgers. fat, dumb, and lazy.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  17. qotu

    I have no hope for this nation. This article means that one in five voters are not intelligent enough to actually make an informed decision. I lay the blame for this on our educational system. When Sarah Palin doesn't know what the Vice President does, or what the treasury does, or when dinosaurs went extinct (and this is suppose to be a LEADER) then we have lost.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  18. anotherwhiner

    There's an idiot born every minute. Well, 1 in 5 it appears. Geez.....

    August 19, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  19. Graham

    How about anyone who doesn't know he's Christian can't vote? Elections depend on an engaged populace, so disenfranchise the disengaged.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  20. dina

    Who cares if his Muslim or not? What difference does it make?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:38 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.