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. Dave

    This is just....20% of Americans aren't very smart.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  2. TomD

    I hate to see these polls because they advertise to the world just how dumb our society is becoming.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  3. Greg

    It is amazing to see the amount bigotry and intolerance being spewed in these comments by alleged "Christians". I use alleged because if they truly read the bible and practiced their faith they surely wouldn't spew such crap. Oh wait, I forgot the can selectively apply tenets and beliefs, i.e love thy neighbor (as long as he isn't gay, muslem, of different faith, etc.)

    August 19, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  4. cyndii

    so what if he is? i also thought Bush was an atheist.........next!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  5. RightTurnClyde

    He's obviously Muslim. He ridiculed the Christian Bible; laughed at it. That makes him a Christian? He's the antichrist. His appointee call ALL Christian's terrorists (and has not retracted it). She's ready to do Manzanar on Christians. Old Rev. Wright never mentioned God or Jesus (once) and Muslim Farrakhan in the front row. Wright is yelling damn the US. Obama supports that. Obama wants the mosque at Ground Zero (and he doesn't care who else doesn't). Obama bows and kisses up to every Muslim king or mullah. His wife says she was not proud of the US and they both apologize to every Muslim they meet... about Americans (us). He sides against Israel and the Jews every chance he gets. What's left? He's Muslim.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:41 am |
  6. John Spurlock

    Barrack Hussein Obama IS a Muslim... he just lies about it! (The same way he lies about most things).

    He was raised Muslim and continues to practice the Muslim religion is secret.

    But forget his religion for a minute and take a good look at him... a President so dishonet and incompetent that he makes Richard Nixon look like a boy scout.


    August 19, 2010 at 10:40 am |
    • susan symonds

      i am ashamed of being an american when i read these words- the forefathers spoke of peace and freedom and you speak with such venomous words-t it may serve you to believe this-true christians believe in full and free and and you believe in hatred-what god do you believe in that would allow for such thinking-it does not matter whether a person is muslim or christian we all believe in a higher loving power- you do not- 9/11 allows your hatred but dont believe that real people will hold true to such demonic words- yes i said demonic- because god would never allow nor tolerate such thinking as yours
      i wish you could see and hear yourself but i am not sure that is possible-you must be a very angry person to hold such narrow ungodlike thoughs

      August 19, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
  7. USA401

    The result of constant propaganda from teh far right. Create so much fear that people begin to belive what you say.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  8. AMK

    I don't think he's a Muslim, I do think he was born in the US. I also think he is a disgrace as President so I guess that makes me a well informed racist.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  9. Randy

    Many Presidents have gone with their family to church on Sunday mornings. Some take an additional step to "join" one where they feel comfortable, and at least one even took a leadership role to teach a Sunday School class (Carter). One President I remember apologized that his arrival was so disruptive to parishioners and instead decided to invited a pastor to give a sermon in the White House each week to the first family and any staff members who wanted to come. Presidents also consult privately with ministers for counseling. In any event, they are "active" in one way or another, and this activity is a reflection of most American's religious practices and values.
    Obama has done none of this, except perhaps some private counseling. If it's Christianity, it's a style of it that is very unfamiliar to most Americans, so it's no surprise that they doubt his sincerity and now suspect that he advertised that he is Christian (and visting churches to make speeches) solely for political purposes.
    I don't believe he is Muslim. I believe he is mostly secular and he doesn't really believe he needs organized religion.
    Here's a question. Of course he's a family man. Does he see to it that THEY get any particular religious involvement or training, particularly on Sunday mornings? Maybe the answer to that question (if not a "staged" answer) would go a long way to telling us about Obama himself.
    Maybe the last time we had a President this secular was Kennedy, an avowed Catholic but not particularly involved or practicing in any local parish.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  10. george

    Why is it surprizing that 20% of the population is ignorant?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  11. McSkills

    Im a 30 something white dude and make good money. Fiscal conservative, social democrat. I have a hard time believing that if Obama was white, this would even be a topic for discussion. Do people think Bloomberg is a closet Muslim? Does it even matter what invisible man people pray to? Get back to work.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:34 am |
    • Bill

      Well said McSkils!

      Personnally, I don't care what his religion is! Doesn't that make my beliefs MORE in line with the guarantees provided within the Constitution?
      I'm just happy that we finally, after 8 long years, have a president that is smarter than a 5th grader!

      Further, anyone who voted Republican in the last election should have their head examined. We were very close to having Sarah Palin as 2nd in line. The single, most irresponsible, act ever committed by a politician was McCain's choice to have her as his running mate. Where would we be if he'd won and died shortly thereafter? Frightening.

      August 19, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  12. Kevin

    1 in 5 Americans believe President Obama is Muslim. Coincidentally.. 1 in 5 Americans incorrectly stated that the Sun revolves around the Earth. What do you think the probability is a cross examination of these two poll would show a high correlation?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:34 am |
    • Princ

      a ciatifecrte of live birth is NOT a birth ciatifecrte they are two different things, you cant get a licence, a job or anything else with a ciatifecrte of live birth, get it together forbez!!!!!!

      July 29, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  13. Chris

    So what Americans believe all kinds of things. Will be nice the day the headlines read, "Americans finally found to display logic and intelligence"

    August 19, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  14. Bill

    Um, doesn't the headline actually say that almost two times as many people believe that Obama is a Christian as opposed to a Muslim?
    If the headline were worded differently, maybe the people that aren't that sharp out there wouldn't believe that this story is actually a vindication of what they've been brainwashed to believe, instead of actually showing that they're wrong.

    Why does it seem that to me that Republicans are dumb?
    Oh yeah, maybe because they can be easily convinced to vote AGAINST something that's in their best interest. All you have to do is write something on the "specials" board at their favorite diner! For example "health care reform will raise your taxes."
    Never mind the fact that health care reform would raise taxes, for example, $100 per year, but save you $1,000 a year in health care costs. I can hear them now...."yeah, but my taxes would still go up $100."
    As Barney Frank would say, "it's like having a conversation with my dining room table."

    August 19, 2010 at 10:33 am |
    • George

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      July 31, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  15. John from Long Island NY

    Unfortunately most Americans are too stupid to find their way out of a one door office- 3rd world status, here we come- WHY??? We don't make anything anymore (except debt), our two major "political parties" are bough and paid for (and do not serve the interests of the American people), and our populace is under educated, uninformed and basically a collection of frightened, meewling sheeple willing to belive anything and everything served up by some billionaire Aussie. The fact that things like Global Warming and Evolution are "hotly debated" should be violently insulting to anyone with an IQ over 95. But they aren't. Instead we rage about the location of Mosques and Gay Marriage and a number of other useless NON-issues. Brazil, India and China are going to fly past us in the next decade- and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  16. beemus

    Looks like Leno will never have a shortage of candidates for the Jaywalk Allstars.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  17. a very kind man who gives warning and help

    every soul who do not worship allah (swt) will go to hell simply and what do you think hell is its burning and suffering for you and you will saty there for ever while the muslims are in jannah (paradide) allah said all are judged aponnd their deeds and intentions so if obama intends and accepted islam in his heart then his muslim and may allah help him through the test of this world we will alll die and test death and see the last day which is equal billions of years,infront of allah.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  18. John Watson

    How can the American public be so incredibly stupid? When John Kennedy first ran for President, there wasn't a single voter who didn't know he was Roman Catholic. That fact was discussed and debated and in the end made no difference. If these recent polls are to be believed, it means this generation of voter is so ignorant – at least the ones who were polled – that it's no wonder they can be herded around like a flock of sheep by talk-show hosts, religious bigots, political pundits, anonymous bloggers, and just about anyone else with some kind of sounding board. Obama – arguably the most intelligent President we've had in a long time – has to realize that he's dealing with a nation of dead-heads and dummies and tailor his remarks accordingly. TV commercial writers have long accepted as fact that the average American adult has the mind of a 10-year-old child. Turns out, they're right.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  19. bonnetwagon

    YES he is a Muslim.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  20. zeke

    "the sounds of the morning call to prayer are the prettiest sound I have ever heard." *Barrak Obama

    August 19, 2010 at 10:30 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.