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. JT

    Interesting article.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  2. MLZ

    You know, I always wanted to think my fellow Americans were intelligent, well-informed individuals with a tolerance for different races, cultures and religions. Then things like this come up to prove otherwise. It's a wonder the rest of the world trusts us with anything if the average citicen isn't even capable of discerning the most basic information about their own leader.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  3. Delores Wilson

    Since he can't or won't produce a valid birth certificate, (because he was actually born in Kenya?) supported a Ramadan dinner at the White House,supported the Mosque at Ground Zero (or should have added while buidling is their religious freedom he should have added it was completely insensitive), sent an Iman to the Middle East on my taxpayer money, why would you think he was Muslim?

    August 19, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  4. Dwane

    And we wonder why Americans are falling behind the rest of the world in education?

    August 19, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  5. laurie

    A vast percentage of the people posting comments here are terrifyingly ignorant. You're like zombies without a GED. How can you believe so many things that have no basis and are simply not true? Get out of your basements, pull yourselves away from the computer and go out into the daylight. It appears that it's been some time since you've seen reality. Wake up, people, you are drowning in stupid. Really? President Obama is a Muslim? SHOW ME PROOF. Don't just repeat hearsay you've heard from Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh. SHOW ME PROOF. And you should demand to SEE proof before you begin repeating such idiotic lies yourselves. This country is amazing, and you are killing it by allowing yourselves to be scared because you believe lies radio hosts tell you. It doesn't get much dumber that that.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:46 am |
    • Ted T.

      Laurie, you are so right. I too worry that this country has been destroyed by the right wings propaganda and it's mouth piece, FOX.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  6. Aezel

    1 of 5 Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. I.E.: 1 in 5 Americans is now proven beyond all doubt to be so irreconcilably stupid that it is surprising they can feed themselves with a spoon in the morning.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  7. Earl

    "While we may disagree on the appropriateness of the Mosque, we can surely agree that it is an issue of national importance that the only house of worship actually destroyed on September 11, 2001, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, be rebuilt. For the last year, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has refused to meet with Church officials and has placed bureaucratic roadblocks in way of rebuilding St. Nicholas Church.

    The world is watching to see if the humble Church that stood as a quiet refuge at the crossroads of commerce will rise from the ashes of that fateful September morning and become a vibrant symbol of our faith and resiliency as a nation." Why does President Obama refuse to allow the St. Nickolas Church to be built yet support the Muslem building . His heart lies with Muslim faith , by his actions

    August 19, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  8. Richelle

    Those same one in five Americans also believe everything they read in National Enquirer.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  9. Patrick

    Even Jesus, when on earth, did not condemn the Roman gods, to the point that he responded to the cry of a centurion for his servant to be healed. Left to some right-wing christians today, they would have asked the centurion to convert and denounce his god before they will heal the servant. No wonder Jesus spent his time having a go at the hypocritical religious leaders at the time.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  10. Daniel

    A real Christian reads the Bible and learns that God is pro-life, therefore they should follow the clear teaching and preserve human life from conception to natural death. Sadly, Mr. Obama is in direct opposition to the word of God with his pro-death beliefs by supporting abortion on demand through all 9 months of pregnancy for any reason.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  11. Amy

    I never understood why a president's religion is so important. It honestly has no bearing on how well he does his job. Bush annoyed me with how much he talked about religion. The US does a very poor job of separating church and state. Even if Obama was Muslim (and he's not), I wouldn't care.

    As for the mosque near Ground Zero, it's not actually a mosque they are building. It's an Islamic cultural center. And it really disappoints me how many people are so against it. Yes the terrorists were Muslim but that was a select few out of how many millions of non-violent practicing Muslims? Exactly.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  12. Jerry

    He's simply a "them" to these people.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  13. Truth

    Why would it matter what religion he is. Its a freedom under the constitution. It doesnt not matter that he is black so why would religion factor into it.

    Seperation of church and state is another tentate.

    plus Obama is a lawyer he actually thinks before he speaks. Sometimes he thinks a little to much in order to counter assumptions before they even arise which confuses people, but that just shows how ignorant people really are.

    I think people are angry in general with overpopulation and are looking for a source to vent their anger.. IE the government, and the leaders of it.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  14. madmo


    A court in Saudi Arabia is seeking medical advice on whether it is possible to cut the spinal cord of a man as a punishment after he was indicted of causing paralysis to another man during a fight, a local daily reported on Thursday.


    August 19, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  15. Joseph Borges

    i think there is so much hatred for Muslims in the country that they are using this excuse to wrongly demonize President Obama. It is a very sad and pathitic attempt by the ignorant.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  16. madmo


    Saudi court mulls verdict to cut defendant’s spine
    He caused paralysis to another man during a fight and the victim is insisting that he should suffer the same injury
    By Staff
    Published Thursday, August 19, 2010
    A court in Saudi Arabia is seeking medical advice on whether it is possible to cut the spinal cord of a man as a punishment after he was indicted of causing paralysis to another man during a fight, a local daily reported on Thursday.

    The court in the northwestern province of Tabuk has sent letters to hospitals in the kingdom asking them whether the punishment to cripple the defendant by severing his spine is medically possible, the Arabic language daily Okaz said.

    The unidentified defendant hit Abdul Aziz Al Mutairi, another Saudi, with a cleaver during a fight more than two years ago and the trial has been delayed because Mutairi is insisting that his attacker suffer the same injury.

    “The General Court in Tabuk has sent several letters to hospitals in and outside the region asking doctors about the possibility of cutting the spinal cord of the defendant after he was indicted of causing paralysis to another man,” it said.

    The paper quoted the 22-year-old Mutairi as saying the defendant had confessed in court to hitting him with the cleaver during their fight in Tabuk.

    “King Khaled Hospital is of the opinion that it is possible to cut the spinal cord and cause paralysis medically through specialist centres,” he said.

    According to the paper, the verdict is pending responses from hospitals to the court’s letters.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  17. AustinBaby

    Ok then...Bush was in the KKK.....And his daddy was the Grand Wizard.
    Get a life people. Focus on more important things. Sorry you candidate didn't win. Stop trying to divide this nation more than it already is.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • Doug

      An honest mistake on your part I'm sure, they are both 4 letters and start with B.

      However the person you are thinking of is DEMOCRAT Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia.

      For those who made a stink on Dr Laura, I suggest you utube his n word rant on Fox a few years back, the late Senator I would assume just spoke for every Democrat on that, since not one called him on it and we have seen their comments on Dr. Laura, a simple radio host, not a US Senator.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  18. KG

    Haha... looks like that separation of church and state doctrine is not working out very well. At this point you might as well throw in the hat and accept that the revolution has failed.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  19. madmo

    Off course he is a muslim and is great in taquia.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  20. Daniel

    This is why the rest of the world is gainig on us, there are way too many idiots in the country.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:41 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.