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. Ted T.

    The right wing propaganda machine and FOX's daily distortion of the truth has brain washed the most vulnerable and ill informed in believing that our President is a Muslim. It is alarming and disturbing how our country has been purposely destroyed by the right. I hope this November, the good people of this country will come to their senses and send a message to the right by voting for anyone else other then the GOP candidates.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  2. RG

    Yes, 1 in 5 are stupid, about 20%

    What is scary is that unemployment is at 10%, meaning half of the stupid people are gainfully employed.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  3. Tasia

    Only in America is this even an issue. Who cares.

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


    August 19, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  5. TT

    If one in five Americans think that President Obama is Muslim, then one in five Americans are incredibly stupid. All the comments above seem to implicate because of some of Obama's actions he is not Christian, but that automatically makes him Muslim. So apparently there are only two religions in the world, either you are Christian or Muslim. What are those people who oppose saying the flag of allegiance, are they Muslim too? Stop blaming the Muslims for everything, you idiots. It just seems that you are trying to find a scapegoat for problems in the world and it is pathetic.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  6. Robert

    This is the United States of America where we have freedom of religion. It doesn't matter what the President's religion (or lack thereof) is, and it is none of our damn business, same as with anyone else.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  7. LMR

    If the media wanted to spread the word that Mr. Obama is a Purple People Eater, they would probably find 1 in 5 who believe that too. Jeez!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  8. Nancy Abram

    If Obama were white people would not think he is Muslim. Racism clearly a factor. And if he were a Muslim why is that even a problem?

    August 19, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  9. MikinAz

    lLst week a poll showed 1 in 4 believed he was not born in the US. Hmmm – correlation? My guess is Birthers, Baggers, Reps – oh my! No surprise. and besides...the only ones that should care that our president is of any religeon...are atheists. As far as polls go – last week 87% of those taking the poll said they performed random acts of kindness – is that the % we all see out there?

    August 19, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  10. Doug

    46% of African Americans don't know what Obama's religion is.

    How can that be?

    Democrat says all the people who don't believe Obama is a Christian are "Tea Baggers", and that there is not a single African American "Tea Bagger", they are all "racist, imbred, hicks who worshing Rush and Beck".

    So did this just happen overnight? Must be, Democrats never lie. LOL!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  11. Dave, Ludlow,MA

    Interesting that during the election Republicans were more than happy to accept Obama being Christian as they tried desperately to link him to the rants of Rev. Jeramiah Wright. Now, since that failed, they have chosen to make him a Muslim. Next week they'll have us believing he's having secret lunches with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. It's time they just grow up on the other side...

    August 19, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  12. Dlst

    Not surprising that so may people are uninformed or wrongly informed. After all, something like 90% of Americans claim to believe that the devil exists. Ignorance is rampant.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  13. 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 the President not support the re building of the only Christian Church destroyed 9/11 at the site and yet support the Muslem building , his heart lies with Muslems and has said so many times as he had no time for the World Day of Prayer yet does have time for the Ramadan Dinner. Does this not show who he really is??

    August 19, 2010 at 11:52 am |
  14. lwba

    It is probably the same one in five that believes there is a Sanata Claus (Republicans only want to decrease the deficit if they can not decide what to spend it on) and that Hawaii is not a state.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:52 am |
  15. dog

    This poll should read "1/5th of Americans are morons".

    August 19, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  16. Coherent1

    Silly faux Christians. Most aren't grounded enough to know what they believe themselves. This allows others to question the Christian faith. Some believe Obama is muslim by natural birth, but I challenge them; are you Christian by natural birth? Do you really know what it means to rule over a country who don't believe in their own faith? Freedom of religion, does it mean freedom to practice Christianity only? Most Christians don't believe in forgiveness, but doesn't the scriptures tell us to forgive if we want to be forgiven? Scripture tell us to love one another as we love ourselves, yet we discriminate like no other on this earth! Barack Obama confessed with his mouth what he believed in the same way that Jesus would have us in testing the spirit, but are biggest accusers in all of religion! Had it not been for my knowledge of the truth, I would walk away in embarrassment. But I know the truth.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  17. Elmer Romero

    This poll is undeniable PROOF that, at the very LEAST, 1 in 5 Americans are ceritifiable idiots (although I have absolutely NO doubt that the actual number is frighteningly much higher) and it is a sad (but necessary?) by-product of our system that allows such individuals to express poll-worthy opinions, let alone take polls in the first place!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  18. Ochoa111

    Americans, we have all been taught that the first years of child's life forms the majority of one's belief. After spendins so many years "living as a muslim" abroad, not in the U.S.A. one can easily see that Barry's foundations were not formed as
    a citizen of the United States of America, reciting the pledge-of-allegance, nor any of the other Patriotic Traditions as we
    REAL AMERICANS observe. After my extensive research on Barry, I came to the conclusion that he could be muslim, that was in 2007. It appears that my research was accurate. When I mentioned this to my friends & associates, many laughed,
    but they are not laughing now. We Americans, as history shows, are quite tolerant of other religions, BUT NOT THOSE WHO WANT US DEAD.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  19. KG

    Well it is true what they say about Christianity: The belief that some cosmic Jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your sould that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  20. AndyF

    Yet another example of the weak minds buying into a lie if it is repeated and repeated enough times. Seriously, someone prominent needs boldly state this poll reveals at least 1 in 5 Americans are clinically dillusional. Reinvent reality to fit a belief and perception, that is how the GOP is surviving right now. Nothing other than what Bush did to offer for policy, no solutions, yech!

    August 19, 2010 at 11:49 am |
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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.