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. mitchyj


    August 19, 2010 at 10:54 am |
    • Tim

      1 in 5 are Liberals; 2 in 5 are Conservatives. So I agree with you.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:36 am |
    • ratkartz

      evidence of that dumbness is found in who those dumb people elected for a president

      September 5, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  2. Greg

    This whole thing reminds me of a Mark Twain adage that can be applied to electronic medis today : Those who do not read the paper are uniformed, those that do are misinformed.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  3. Upoyours

    Canada,SHUT UP. You couldn't fight a cold.If america is so bad why is every low life trying to sneek in?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  4. Bill (Louisiana)

    So what. All these religions he belongs to me just proves to me he believes in God and is confused on which direction he is going. Sort of the way the country is being run from day to day. Can't wait till the Republicans get back in power so they can stick it to the poor and middle class.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  5. frankuff89

    Obama is very intellectual guy so when he speaks...u have to have brains to get why hes saying that or where hes coing from. 1) He sworn an oath to uphold the constitution of the united states and it would be otherwise a crime to do different. 2) Sensitivity? really.. now the sensitivity part is the laughable part..Who cares about ur feeling?...its not about ur feeling...its the law. Example. Sean Hannity has the constitutional right to vote BUT he shouldnt vote beacuse hes a conservative and it hurts my feelings as an american Because he votes for Republican candidates to advance the conservative principles. and i wud like to see only liberal ideology to go forward....wat i'm trying to say here is that whenever there is the word RIGHTS..there shudnt be BUT...who cares about how u feel? 3) Any republican that says obama is a Muslim is an idiot. why? they spent time during the campaign to bash him rightfully for sitting in Rev. Wright CHURCH for 20 yrs. now u dont have to be eistein to figure this out....

    August 19, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  6. cyndii

    so what if he is? didn't matter that i thought Bush was an atheist......... NEXT!!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  7. mhharpster

    One in five...a bellweather for the number of idiots in this country. Unfortunately, the proportion of "just slightly better than idiotic" is much higher. I fear for the future.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  8. mj

    Even if he were a muslim so what!! Bush /Cheney practiced the capitalist greed religion

    August 19, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  9. Z Man

    1 out of 5 Americans think Obama is a Muslim, about 25% of Americans have some kind of mental problem, that is 1 in 4.
    See the relationship????

    August 19, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  10. qmcs

    God and State need a much greater seperation than we now suffer. We need a new constitution that brings the realities of the this age into account. Not all religions should be allowed a place in this country. If Christian condone violence in thier name then they should suffer. So should the Muslems. All the "nice" Muslems say they are not part of the radical moovement...maybe so...but they suffer by proxy and it is up to them to clean out the human trash committing these crimes or they will continue to suffer. It is they who must root out a kill this movement because they are the ones who suffer and will continue to suffer. We would all be better off living is a religion free country. The very nature of the idea of freedom somehow coupled with religious dogma is rediculous. Obama is not a Muslem and...It should not matter!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:48 am |
  11. Z Man

    1 out of 5 Americans think Obama is a Muslim, about 25% of Americans have some kind of mental problem, that is 1 in 4.
    See the relationship?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  12. RogerTaney

    Hey CNN! Why is it that when I click "Reply", enter my comment and then click "Post", my comment appears as a new, separate posting and not a 'reply' ?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  13. mj

    i cannot believe how ignorant some are. Obama's mom fell in love with an african man who so happened to be muslim. Many countries in Africa are predominantly muslim. They divorced when he was only a baby and he was raised most of his life in Hawaii after living in Indonesia for a short time. There are yearbook pictures of him and too many people there who know him and who knew his CHRISTIAN grandmother who raised him. He married christian michelle and they went to a church in chicago with a radical christian pastor who does not hate america but simply believes God's judgement is on America. There are many who believe that, everyday people. i dont agree with that but just laying the facts out. Listen people we had one president that was a warmonger and the other liked orgies so what if this one is a muslim....really

    August 19, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  14. johncc

    Proof of religious belief should be a requirement for citizens of this country. The question is how to accomplish this. Would a tattoo on one’s belly indicate appropriate dedication. It would mean enduring some discomfort during the application and healing process. No, that won’t work. Even a birth certificate can’t prove one’s place of birth, after all.
    I have seen a number of Christians and Jews, self-professed to be sure, who do not act like what I think their religions dictate. Clearly, declaring oneself to be of a certain faith or no faith is insufficient.
    Probably the only way to determine one’s religion is to have some test of faith. That coupled with an internet-based poll of those who do and do not know each applicant could be the basis for the public assigning a religion to every citizen.
    Now, we’re back to what constitutes a test of faith……

    August 19, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  15. Z Man

    1 out of 5 Americans think Obama is a Muslim, about 25% of Americans have some kind of mental problem, that is 1 in 4.
    See the relationship?????

    August 19, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  16. Abel

    Obama made already a previous big mistake by proclaiming that the USA was not a christian nation. He meant to say, the goverment is not christian, because this nation, defenitevely is.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  17. Guess Who

    All American presidents are Free Masons.
    It seems to indicate people who are turning to dislike him are looking for reasons to bolster their emotions. If Obama is really a Muslim, then his wife and kids should be also. None of them expresses in the manner of their dress and other customs typical of Muslim females.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  18. fred

    Islamization begins when there are sufficient Muslims in a country to
    agitate for their religious privileges.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  19. Craig

    Just in 1 and 5 are retarded. He supported the right to build a mosque because there is nothing saying in the constitution that you can tell someone they cant build something next to a burlington coat factory. This whole debate is stupid because you are bigot doesnt mean you get to tell someone they cant build something somewhere. The only good possible outcome of this is if it leads to not being able to build churches of any kind anywhere.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  20. J. T

    i like the 1/5 think he's a muslim compared with 50% of african american males don't graduate from high school...2/5 americans who are functionally illiterate, the 50% of inner city 16 year old males who have dropped out of high school...this is unbelieve-able, Maybe if Obama didn't act like "fundamentalist" and private "militia" right wing Christians were potential terrorists and try so darn hard to get Muslims to like us, people would not think this about him, I don't think he's a christian..

    August 19, 2010 at 10:44 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.