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. Susan

    I don't care what religion he is...just get him out of office.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  2. Rob Jones

    Obama might as well be a Muslim as should his 20 year pastor, Rev J Wright. Look at the robes, the little hat and listen to the rhetoric of Rev. Wright and you realize the only thing that makes him different than a radical Muslim is 200 year of Christianity drilled into him by him mama, grandma and great-grandma–that's powerful stuff. Aside from that, the hate and vitriol spewed from his alter is pretty much the same filth you would hear in many muslim mosques.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  3. Barry Soetero

    He is a muslim! I saw photos of him when he was a kid attending a muslim school in the Phillipines.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:25 am |
    • Bill

      I saw photos of you as a clown when you were a kid. Are you a clown?

      August 19, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • rose

      who cares!!!!!!!!! scince when it was a crime to be muslim?????????????

      August 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  4. Dee

    Why the hell does it matter what he is? Is Religion a pre-requisite for Presidency in this country? no I didn't think so.. So lets move on. This Media blitz is just pathetic over issues like this. And don't even get me started on the right to build that mosque in NYC. There is no question that should be allowed. It's not like all Muslims are terrorists because of a few psychos attacking us. Get over it.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  5. KC

    Proof that over half of the population is retarded.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:24 am |
    • Dee

      exactly! WTF is wrong with people? Leave the guy alone. Lets see you go into that Oval Office and try to do this job!

      August 19, 2010 at 10:25 am |
    • i2i

      If by 'retarded' you mean "held back" then I would agree. 60+ Percent of us are held back from accepting the lie that he is anything other than what he appears to be; 'Muslim'.

      August 19, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  6. serg

    He is a MUSLIM...he has done but bowdown to the muslim world.
    Barack Hussein Obama come on please !....he has done nothing for this country but destroy it from the inside.
    Along with Pelossi and Reid. One thing for sure next time I wll not be voting for this raghead...
    No soup for you come back in one year...never mind never come back...

    August 19, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  7. Brak

    Another study confirming that 1 out of 5 Americans are idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  8. Joe Mahma


    Likely reasons:

    1) Americans are ƒucking stupid.

    2) In typical politician fashion, Obama wants to appear all things to all people.

    3) All of the above.


    August 19, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  9. McMEw

    I believe that he is a Christian, and that he simply believes in separation of church and state.
    "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and render unto God what is God's." That's what he's been defending. This doesn't make him a Muslim.
    And even if he was, SO WHAT?? That doesn't make him a terrorist, or a murderer, or an extremist. I used to be conservative, but they've become such whiny little finger-pointing jerks I've come to the conclusion that they no longer represent me. They only represent their politicians, but they no longer represent America.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  10. doofus

    ROFLMAO! just goes to show you how moronic the American Public can be.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  11. puzzled

    Racist Christian or Muslim...or OMG both!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  12. Shannon

    And 1 in 5 Americans can't find the U.S. on a world map. Not a coincidence.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • ratkartz

      five out of four americans can't do fractions

      September 5, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  13. Jeremiah

    I personally believe that it is helpful to this country that Barrack not frequently display his faith. Issues like healthcare, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. transcend the borders of any faith. Obama is the leader we've needed for the last decade to bring people together and focus on a common goal.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  14. i2i

    What should we believe: Words, or actions? No one will deny that Obama is a consummate politician; clever, power hungry, wildly ambitious. He himself admitted that [while still in college] he set upon himself the goal of becoming president of the United States. Add to that his radical leftist associations and [what could be perceived as] a track record of deception and broken promises, and one could (and some would say 'justifiably') conclude that Obama would do anything, say anything, to achieve his goals. So is Obama a Muslim? There is growing circumstantial evidence to suggest that he is, but regardless of his [alleged] loyalties to Islam, 60-Percent of us believe he is certainly no Christian.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  15. StevenS

    He is MUSLIM 100%. Islam teach muslims to lie in order to win, so he start going to church and praying with rasist priest just only to cover up his true identity.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  16. EddyL

    Americans are getting stupider all the time.......

    August 19, 2010 at 10:18 am |
    • ratkartz

      yes, stupider all the time... look at who they elected for a president

      September 5, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  17. Nick

    Big difference between following Islam and understanding it. That he has a good understanding of the Islamic faith does not mean he is a follower. That he prays in Jesus name leaves no gray area!!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  18. serg

    He is a MUSLIM...he has done but bowdown to the muslim world.
    Barack Hussein Obama come on please !....he has done nothing for this country but destroy it from the inside.
    Along with Pelossi and Reid. One thing for sure next time I wll not be voting for this raghead...

    August 19, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  19. Howie

    Obama is way too intelligent to ACTUALLY believe in nonsense like religion. I'm proud of that fact!

    As a politician of course he had to pretend he's "Christian".

    August 19, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  20. RaceMunki

    It actually kills me that with all the issues that "we" need to focus on, that we are even having this kind of discussion in this day and age. A lot of people thought Ronald Reagan was the devil, but I don't seem to recall these kinds of discussions about him. "We are no longer a Christian Nation" is right on the money. Truthfully, we were never a truly christian nation. This is a country made up of many different cultures, creeds, religions and the like. That kind of diversity is what has made us into a super-power. Anyone who raises stupid questions like this doesn't understand fully what DEMOCRACY means. To all the morons who keep fishing for things to pick at, Get Your Heads Out of Your Butts!! It's the 21st Century!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:17 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.