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. Puncho

    The real issue is not what people think is his religion. Most don't care. The real issue is that people believe he is lying about it. And that's a problem for him.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  2. Kevin

    people are stupid, what a shocker.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  3. DJ in TX

    Come on People. You 1st blamed him for being in Rev. Wright's church for 20 years (which is the Church of Christ). Now all of a sudden he's Muslim. Which is it? You may not like Rev Wright or his church. But it is a CHRISTIAN church. I don't think people are happy unless they have something to complain about President Obama. People question his citizenship, his religion, etc. This is absolutely ridiculous. I have no problem with people disagreeing with policy, etc. But this kind of backlash, WOW. Do you see why a lot of people feel this is about race to some degree? NO president ever before has faced this kind of stuff. Policy disagreements, yes, ALL presidents face that. But people question his citizenship, his religion, more threats against his life than ANY president before him. People felt Bush DIDN"T actully win the 1st time (he did lose the popular vote), but NO ONE refused to go to combat becasue of that. So please tell me, 100% that some of this is not about race. The circumstances state otherwise.............geez. And to think I went to war for this country.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  4. Jeff

    Who cares what religion he is? Religion and politics should have nothing to do with each other (sadly not the case anymore), and he's tried his best to keep his own religion out of the mix. There are plenty of decisions this administration has made of which you can question the wisdom or efficacy, and yet we focus on a poll about what religion the president is as if one is somehow better than the other, or that it defines how well he's doing in office. We're better than this people, or at least I keep hoping we are despite constant evidence to the contrary. Its fine to dislike this administration based on their choices and policies, and there's plenty to discuss and argue on both sides of the issues. Why do we need to resort to persecuting someone based on their perceived beliefs. This is the kind of thing that goes on in backwards third world countries, not here.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  5. Jim Bob

    Downright ignorant can't tell a Christian from a Muslim.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  6. Marc

    It is very clear that this President is Muslim. Just look at all of the photos of him bowing to foreign dignitaries and practicing his Muslim prayers. The mosque near ground zero is not a funny thing. Muslims declared war on the west several hundred years ago. I don't believe for a minute that there are friendly Muslims. Yes a few radicals can give everyone else a bad name but if that is the case then the "friendly" ones have to call out the bad ones and root them out. If they don't turn the bad ones over for prosecution then they are an accomplice. That will never happen though. Their "Bible" declares that everyone that isn't Muslim is an infidel and should be killed. Either the moderate Muslims don't believe their "Bible" or something. They don't worship the one true God and his son like Christians do. My King James Bible does not tell me to kill my enemies. It tells me to love them and win them to the one true Saviour, Jesus Christ.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  7. mf2

    Thanks for the poll. 1 in 5 Americans are complete idiots. Only 20%? I thought it would be much higher.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  8. laughorcry

    As an attention getter, your by- line states 1 in 5 Americans believe the President is a Moslem. How about this by line, over 1 in 3 Americans believe Moslems do not have the right to a Mosque in neighborhood of ground zero. The first survey result fights the facts and the second fights the Constitution.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  9. DrewL

    I have met the idiot, and he is us...to coin a phrase. How embarrassing?! Why is it that so many among us have poo for brains? I just shake my head in wonderment at how utterly ignorant so many Americans are. Ugh.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  10. GSA

    HAHAHAHA! I can barely breathe i'm laughing so hard, Americans are not the brightest bunch but to believe something so ridiculous is just plain stupid. Sorry USA but you FAIL!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:51 am |
    • cassiocm

      Good one GSA, I agree with you....

      August 19, 2010 at 9:55 am |

    Why does it really matter what religion President Obama is! We are a Nation of many different religious and ethnic beliefs. If you analyze what was done under "W's" Administration (he was supposedly a very good "Christian") – we lost over four thousand "Young Americans" and scores of thousands who were maimed in a War that should never have happened!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  12. Jim Bob

    How ignorant are we Americans. A president should be judged by the quality of his work, not by cartoonish theatrics.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  13. cassiocm

    Meanwhile, a country in the far east is fast catching up with us. We all better enroll in mandarin classes soon... lol

    August 19, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  14. Seraphim0

    Apparently one in five americans is a dolt. It's sad how much sway talk show -entertainers- (make no mistake, they get paid to rile up the masses) have with supposedly intelligent people.

    As for the question of the mosque at GZ: by the letter of the law and the constitution, they have every right to build a religious structure there. Public opinion is against it- not the law. The President has to uphold the constitution- even that pesky part about religious freedom. I think it’s in terrible, terrible taste for them to want to build there, but they have every right to. I dislike it, but as a nation of laws, we have to legally allow them to build their place of worship. In the eyes of the law it is no different than a church or a synagogue going up at the location.

    And, no. I am not muslim. I am not Christian, either. I’m an aetheist.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  15. robearo

    Are these people serious, I now truly have a grasp of the number of morons in this country about a fifth. Gimme a break.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  16. Jim Bob

    OMG how ignorant are we Americans? A president should be judged by the quality of his work, not by cartoonish theatrics.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  17. Jay

    First, if anyone is reading, they would quickly realize that president Obama is NOT a Muslim. Second, if he were, why would it matter? Did it matter that JFK was a Catholic? Wasn't he supposed to be some kind of of papist?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  18. shukura

    Separation of church and state is a requirement for our government. There is no 'Christian' requirement for becoming president. So what really is the point of this article?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  19. morph147

    y does this matter what religion he is? it doesnt reflect the job that he is doing

    August 19, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  20. Jim

    So what happened to the complaints that he was a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ and that his pastor was the Reverend Wright?

    Oh, yeah. Nobody cares anymore, let's say he's a Muslim instead. Idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:47 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.