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. aaron

    Who cares if he is! Does this make him a terrorist? Christians are so annoying!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  2. kr

    So the right-wing nutjobs at FOX and elsewhere are doing great at their jobs of personal attacks, disinformation, rabble rousing, etc. I am opposed to the majority of Pres. Obama's policies but the personal attacks on his religion, birthplace, etc are ridiculous! When will people grow up and focus on what is important – POLICY! The state of journalism in this country is pathetic

    August 19, 2010 at 11:40 am |
  3. Oxygene

    it would explain the damage he's already done to the country plus the next round he is preparing to deal the american public.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:39 am |
    • MikinAz

      let me guess oxy...bagger? birther? at least right wing religeous nut job republican right? he has done much to correct the damage done by GW – at lease he is moving forward. Guess what, things change, life evolves and if we expect to survive we must move forward as well. You can't have the 50s back...any african americans or women want the 50's back? Just you and g beck Oxy

      August 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  4. Randy

    This just shows the ignorance and lack of self education from the majority of people in the United State of America.

    Besides that the only thing that would be wrong with President Obama being Muslim would be that he was lying to us about being another religion this whole time. The religion would not be the problem it would be the lie in which I am sure he is not doing.

    With that being said I for one would be proud to live in a country that would be able to accept someone as our President not on their religious beliefs but on the stances that they have taken with their political views. Church should always be separate from state in every way possible and there should not be any discussion about it.


    August 19, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  5. Lex

    So, I guess that if someone happens to worship Islam, they are no longer fit to be POTUS? Seems a bit strange to me. . .

    August 19, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  6. Tom, Long Beach, California

    Christian is a cover up, clearly a Muslim with the same agenda....why he will not be re-elected

    August 19, 2010 at 11:36 am |
  7. rm

    Let's see now. Obama refused to set up Christmas nativity scene at the White House but just finished celebrating Ramadan there. He has stepped up to bat for the proposed mosque to be constructed at the 9/11 site – something that should not even have been on his presidential radar. On the other hand, he has made no mention about the Christian Orthodox requests to rebuild their church destroyed on 9/11 near the same site, a request that has so far been stonewalled. Obama spent his youth in a Muslim madras school in Indonesia. Now why in the world would anyone think he's Muslim?

    August 19, 2010 at 11:36 am |
  8. John

    write wings are terrorist, say all you want but Obama is fine President! this sounds weird but I love the guy. If write wing people ever come back to power, I will be disappointed.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  9. Eddie B.

    Once again this is proving the growing sentiment of ethnocentrism in this country that the GOP flames. People have no clue what Islam is, but they hate it and they hate having a black President, specially with the name Barack Obama. The GOP and Fox are fueling this and have awoken the sleeping monster of racism that is very prevalent in this country to win votes and fire up their base. Sad.

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

    Twenty percent of the American population is stupid? What?

    August 19, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  11. Carlynn

    I dont understand why this is even a debate. Isnt this the United States of America. I dont relaize that some groups were left out of being able to practice their religon. I guess if we stick with his line of thinking then there shouldnt be any Christian Churches near the Federal Building in OK. I am appaluled that ones saying no to it are the same ones who on another topic will use the Constitution when needed. We either have the freedom to practice religon or we dont!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  12. Stephanie Pelch

    im really hoping these are some twisted statistics. if not, this country is even more paranoid//IDIOTIC than i thought....

    August 19, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  13. So

    Who's care? Get a life

    August 19, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  14. Anne

    So... twenty percent of the American population is comprised of booger eating morons. I totally believe that.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  15. jaba

    Wow! Print a story about politics and the nuts come out! Print a story with religion and the wackos come out! Print one with religion and politics together and ??? I can't think of a word to describe what comes out! Reading these posts just reinforces what I've thought for some time.. the US is really falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to citizens with intelligence.

    Come on people – stop hating! Does it really matter if you're Christian or Muslim? White or black? Gay or straight? Republican or Democrat? Let's stop all the BS and work together! Let's dig ourselves out of this "S%&T" hole we dug for ourselves!!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  16. Matt in SD

    It's sort of pathetic at this point... is it post election bitterness? Blatant stupidity? Watch too much X-Files? Why do people actually buy that bull? See what GOP fearmongering does? It actually makes you dumber.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  17. David

    Why does it matter that he's Muslim or Christian? Separation of Chuch and State. Stop demonizng Muslim people. It was the terrorists who were responsible for 9/11. I think the real issue here is sensitivity and consideration. For now, people do not want to have a mosque near the world center beacuse it reminds them of the terrorists who were muslim exremists. People always need to have some type of visual to associate evil with.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  18. Patrick

    When GW Bush won reelection in 2004, the British newspaper – the Daily Mirror got it right when it asked - "how can so many Americans be so dumb?" These are the same people who believed that Saddam Hussain attacked the US on 911. The bible says in the book of Hosea that "my people perish for lack of knowledge". What should one expect from a nation hooked on Snookie; wives of DC, Atlanta, New York; Jersey shore kids; the Kordashians, etc.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:33 am |
    • Doug

      To each his or her own, I guess.

      I like messing with liberals on message boards, others like to see first hand how people act in the ultra blue areas with the NJ-NY-DC Housewives and Jersey Shore.

      I see it everyday because I live in a liberal area, but if you don't I can see why observing how liberals act on these shows could be amusing, amusing in a sad wow some parts of this nation are really screwed up kinda way.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  19. David

    All this fuss is due to ignorance, stupidity and hatred. He's our President. Get over it.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  20. B. White

    For all of those who call someone who believes Obama to be a Muslim a moron (as many of you on this blog have done), let me throw a couple things at you. First of all, most of those people are very well aware that he claims to be a Christian. But his actions speak louder than words. He has gone out of his way to say this is not a Christian country...he has advocated the Ground Zero Mosque, etc. This all directly opposes the claims he makes. Secondly, his father was a Muslim and he spent time in a Muslim country (Indonesia). When all of this is put together, logical people can come up with the strong suspicion that he is Muslim and that he "changed" his religion to get elected. We know he threw his "pastor" and "mentor" under the bus when it became politically expedient to do so. He also claimed he never espoused the beliefs of his pastor. So who knows what he really believes. When we look at his actions, it raises a lot of doubts as to whether he is a Christian.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:32 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.