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. Steve Thompson

    Less than 50 years ago, it was considered a huge deal that John F. Kennedy was a Catholic, at the time, it was considered a major handicap in his bid for the Presidency.

    Funny how that particular question about a President's non-Protestant leaning seems so idiotic today, isn't it?


    August 19, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  2. NYLo

    Why does anyone care what religion he is? I know I could care less... He's doing his job... which is to pick up the mess that was left by the 8 yrs before him...

    August 19, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  3. Lee

    What an absurdity. The average IQ of americans is certainly going down. All religons are bad news and this is one example of why. Religion is a savage and barbaric throwback to an early age in our history. Our next evolution will be when we throw off these shackles.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  4. mightyfudge

    How can a country with so much wealth be so incredibly stupid?!?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  5. Carmoejor

    Poll probably taken in the South.. IQ level of this Country is a joke.. and you wonder why jobs are going over seas

    August 19, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  6. David Houston, TX

    Since God is completey imaginary who cares?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  7. Bill

    Obama is a muslim. Just watch his actions, how he stops world day of prayer but has all kinds of muslim dinners and gatherings. He wants another mosque built in NYC so the muslims can cheer how they killed so many Christians on 9-11.
    So, it is not a question, he is a muslim.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:00 am |
    • Solomon

      This is far-fetched now isn't it about your assumption Obama is a Muslim, in addition sentiments this Mosque a religious significance toward Anti-America?

      Agree with you that the Mosque should not be built near ground zero, but not for the reason you given. Obama cares a lot for all races and religions, furthermore his rationalizing the Mosque construction. Politics is not a easy game. Indirectly this is helping end hate against America by embracing the ideology of tolerance. Bottom line is that USA can't win this war against radical Islamist by allowing them to recruit others in their madness with policies making USA seem imperialist smoking Marlboro machismo persona. Bush way failed with many casualties and destruction of the surplus as well as leading us to economic nightmare.

      USA is the modern Rome... Let's not allow the barbaric philosophy end our progression being the leader of the free world.

      August 19, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  8. Vic of New York

    Actually if Obama were a Muslim that would be really cool!

    Think about it.... The Right Wing xenophobic wackos would have to eat crow. The radical Muslim jihadists would have to eat crow. America would strike a great win for freedom of religion. Founding father Thomas Jefferson, who was by all rights a liberal intellectual who himself owned a Koran would be slapping a fist bump and doing a jig with St. Peter up in that heavenly cloud! And "God" himself would look down upon man and smile because "it was good"!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  9. Amelia

    I do not think this is a debate about his religion. This is a debate about why they are putting a mosque next to ground zero, where hundreds/thousands of AMERICANS were killed. Where the extremist Muslims killed our American people. This is about what he states one day and then wont speak of the "wisdon" the next day. The first amendment states that we have freedom of religion. Does it also state that the people who came and terrorised our country have the right to put there worship center next to the place they killed our people? Polls are put together for americans and anyone else who comes on this CNN website to state their opinion. These polls are put together to INFORM America what is going on and what the other people in your country think as well. Someone has to inform America since the presidency can not.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  10. Maurice

    Dumbing down of America continues....

    August 19, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  11. C

    SM- the National Day of Prayer is attended of Sarah Palin type hypocrits running around caling every body else Un American if you don't agree with their agenda. There are Chrisitians who respect and don't denegrate people who disagree with them. Do you assume Obama is non Christian or Muslim because he might prefer to hang out with more spiritually minded less hypocritical Christians. These are the Christians who understand that God loves you regardless of your Earthly "religion" or the lack there of. Interesting that the Muslims are reaching out and the so called christians aren't. Love thy enemy.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  12. Ed

    1 in 5 get their news from FoxNews.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  13. Doug G

    I'm actually surprised by the amount of rational responses on this comment section. I must admit that I hoped for a more powerful and persuasive dialog from Pres. Obama. I really feel that he has made nearly all the right choices...but is somewhat too trusting that his explanations will fall upon reasonable and rational ears. These are maddening times and anger and confusion clouds many peoples reasoning. It hurts one's head to think through complex problems without a decisive and authoritive road map...which is why many resort to simple answers based on only empirical evidence.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  14. s

    So what if he is? Aren't we allowed to practice what we want to in this country?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  15. UnfortunateColor

    If 1 in 5 people think Obama is Muslim, then 1 in 5 people are idiots who will believe conspiracy theories over reality.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  16. chand

    who cares what religion he practices...it's his right people!!! every religion condemns terrorism...why does everyone think all muslims are terrorists. that is so ignorant. time mcveigh was a christian...are all christians terrorists? no. then stop picking on the muslims...it's so ridiculous.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  17. Jim Bob

    Downright ignorant can't tell a Christian from a Muslim. Let the president do his job for goodness sake. And he's doing a good job, not causing big problems like his predecessor.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  18. chuck in Jasper Ga

    There are a lot of people that claim they are Pro-Life also. I would be willing to bet some of these people believe Obama is a Muslim given the false impression they want to give people. Pro-life my butt, they are simply anti-abotion and anti-freedom of choice. Someone pro-life would not have opposed Health insurance reform that had the potential to save up to 40,000 lives a year by providing insurance. This is no different. A bunch of ignorant fools were apparently surveyed.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  19. Jason

    1/5 Americans are retarded

    August 19, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  20. Mike

    First of all he is not my President I did not vote for him. No doubt he is a Muslim. He goes to a Ramadan prayer group but not to the National Day of Prayer. He said Mulims were a big part of our countries founding. How many do you know who came over on the MAyflower. This jerk and his anti american wife needs to go back to Kenya and never be heard from again.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:55 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.