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. Not All Docs Play Golf

    So, these are the people who judge him by whether he literally believes that a guy named Naoh built a big boat and loaded, 2 by 2, male and female, every known species of animal and microbe on earth onto said boat to save the world? How many Americans believe in flying saucers? To someone determined to believe that the earth is flat, no amount of photos from space showing it to be round can sway them. Same with these brainless right wing dolts on the issue of our President.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  2. TD

    Many of you liberals amaze me, anytime someone disagrees with you. You immediately use insults questioning their intellect, as if this is somehow going to help your cause. It will backfire on you at the polls just as it has in the past.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  3. Tim
    August 19, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  4. jtr

    I guess when they conducted the poll, they forgot to ask people whether they cared or not. I'd like to see some stats on that. Also, a growing number of unregistered republicans will call themselves independent, just because it looks like they're being balanced in their ideals, while really, they're just crackpot tea-party-birthers who are more republican than the representatives of the damn party!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  5. oil spill

    He can say he is out of his mouth but he really is trying to kill us all.. planning in the dark cornners a plan to hurt our nation. He has done NOTHING to HELP so far.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  6. Jason

    i bet more than 1 in 5 people in America believe an invisible vengance obsessed father figure governs every portion of everything that has ever existed in the known and unknown universe.

    give me a break.

    1 in 5 Americans are retarded.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  7. Doug

    I can't believe how hateful, bigoted, and teabagger this president is!!! The nerve of him to say such right wing Rush Hannity hate about the Muslims, saying they "Cling to their guns and religion"!!!!

    Oh whats that...oh he said that about middle America hard working, honest, caring Christians, whuuu, ok nevermind, it is tolerant and open-minded to say such things about the Americans that Democrats want to exterminate.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  8. Serena Puglsey

    He is a muslim. I am a Christian so I pray for his soul and that he never gets 2cd chance to ruin the United States of America!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  9. conoclast

    What we have in this country is a stupidity gap – or rather an ignorance gap – created and carefully nurtured by FoxNews and their ilk. If tomorrow Rush Limbaugh were to call Obama the antichrist and Hitler's ghost all rolled into one the lunatic fringe would no-doubt swallow it whole and it would show up in the polls next day. America, at least that America expressed by the tea-baggers, has become an embarrassment!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  10. gg

    People are just plain dumb. You follow religions as if there's always some holy presence in our lives. You want every president to be christian, but what if he was athiest or agnostic? Those who care what religion Obama is are only proving that the current war going on is a religious war.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:15 am |
    • Tim

      Right now we are in a war between good and evil even if you don't believe it. You are making decisions that have long term consequences. Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me."

      August 19, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  11. Marty

    Why does it matter what religion he is? Lets take a narrow recap of the past few years............Who bombed the World Trade Center? A: Muslims Who continues to shoot at us and plant bombs in restaurants, schools, buses and any other public place they can get into? A: Muslims Who Wants to build a Mousk in the shadows of Ground Zero? A: Muslims Who would like to destroy Israel and claim it as their own country? A: Muslims What group of people have repeatedly blow up their own people for their cause? A: Muslims I am not against religious freedom, it unfortunate that their are so many people being misled in this country and lied to about the truth of Jesus Christ. He will be coming again very soon and America is not ready. That day will be glorious for the saved and will be of no consequence to the rest, but wait, to everything there is a consequence and those not true believers of the savior will be left behind to suffer and endure the tribulation and reign of Satan. It will not be a pleasant time and all left behind will be forced to take Satans mark or parish in a horrific manor. Read your Bible people, no wait, Read the King James Bible, you are being led to a path of destruction and damnation in Hell. If Americans continue to follow our current president , they will be led down a path of doom, It may not matter what religion he practices, but don't you want a leader who believe's in the values of which this country was built on .............................lets see what are they again? Oh yeah, The Bible, better yet the King James Bible, not the NIV, or the NKJV, or the LNTB or any other acronym they can come up with. Our for fathers were men of Strong Faith in the Lord and developed One Nation Under God, not under any other name. So a President who doesn't believe in the same things is not a man of this country's core value and doctrine.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  12. Dave

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBJo8b5-kC0 I tend to believe that Obama is an atheist. I certainly see nothing out of him to imagine, even for an instant, that Obama is a Christian. I invite you to watch this video that elegantly explains why Obama is not a Christian in which I agree 100% with it. There are seven parts in this video in all, each goes into complete detail as to why Obama cannot be a Christian and believe what he does

    August 19, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  13. luvnewz2

    So what?!?! if he's a good leader, then he's a good leader regardless of the way he chooses to get closer to God.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  14. LOLZ

    "False rumors? I guess CNN has magical powers and knows for a solid fact that O is indeed a Christian,"

    Told you they build a better idiot these days. 🙂

    August 19, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  15. Joe

    This just in: Majority of Americans open mouths, prove beyond all shadow of a doubt that they're stupid.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  16. AndyF

    May the discussion begin on the diagnosis that at least 1 in 5 Americans are clinically dillusional. Seriously, repeat a lie enough times, the weak minded will buy into it, and this is a classic case in point. I am a recovering Catholic, but even when I practiced the religion, I was a willing guest at many a Jewish services. Living in a community rich with diversity, I have had the priveledge of observing an afternoon prayer at our local mosque. Does that automatically strip me of my Christianity even though I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior? That is the only question Pres Obama needs to answer. Not what church he goes to, how he worships, how he interacts with other religions in a nation rich with such diversity. He has more than answered the question, but the fact this type of question is still asked? Again, repeat a lie enough times, enough weak minds will buy into it. It is the only way the GOP stays in existence at this point.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  17. Brian

    My guess is that the 18% who think he is Muslim are the same 18% who were worried that he was a disciple of Reverend Wright – a clearly Christian pastor. And one would have to assume that the 18% completely overlaps with the 'birther' group as well. This is the problem with America today. The stupid choose to express their opinions too much. Which explains why we have Bush the younger and Palin as chosen leaders – American do not want to be led by intelligent people. They want to be led by someone just like themselves.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  18. Marwan Baadarani

    accusation is just the introduction to assassination
    pay attention pall they will take you out or at least try
    they made the mistake of electing a colored president now they just want to correct their mistake and show the world and even those who elected a colored president not to make such a mistake
    a Muslim haha the idiots don't even know to accuse but let me tell you one thing the kind of lie shows the kind of believers haha even the name is more jew than a muslim

    August 19, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  19. sehrish

    he is right...this is america...not a christian nation...not a muslim or catholic nation...this nation offers freeedom of religion!! which is why msot come here...to practice their religion..and people please understand this is not a mosque they are building!! PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO...IT WILL EXPLAIN IT ALLLL.....

    Keith Olbermann Special Comment: There Is No 'Ground Zero Mosque' – 08/16/10


    Keith Olbermann Special Comment: There Is No 'Ground Zero

    August 19, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  20. John Q.

    Obama is a progressive, and a politician; what ever religion makes him the most political points at the time he will be for; though he himself really doesn't have one. He thinks himself above religion, and is in a way his own religion of sorts. He was raised a Muslim while young because of his fathers, and went back to Christianity when coming back to the States to his grandparents, and probably embraced or enjoyed neither. He then attended Rev. Wrights church for political support in the neighborhood to form a progressive base. The only reason he went to church regularly before being elected, was for political reasons, knowing he had to do so in some form to stay a viable political candidate in the future with voters. Now that he is in office, he doesn't need it anymore, and puts up a facade. If you really pay attention, that is how he deals with most things... a facade.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:11 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.