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. Jon Doe

    All of you who sit on these web sites all day and bitch about how bad they have it in the greatest country in the world make me sick. I hear there is plenty of room in iraq for new home construction why dont you go try that out for a while. Since when is being a muslim a bad thing. Every one of you who says obama is a muslim is very simple minded. Everyone of you who discriminate against him for allegedly being muslim is a biggot, and has forgotten what it means to be american.
    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
    "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
    With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

    This is what it means to be american, we established this country on the beliefs of being free of religious persecution. The pilgrims left there country because they were faced with just that not being able to practice religion in the way they saw fit.
    The founding fathers also began this country on the basis that church and state should remain seperate, since when did this change. Critisize his poloicies all you want but leave personal beliefs out of it. While we are on the topics of his policies, the bailouts, are all paid in full with interest, all three of the automakers are posting at least a three billion dollar profit for the first time in all most a decade. If those companies would have been allowed to go bankrupt there would be hundreds of thousands of more people unemployed and that alone would have put us in another depression. Sure cash for clunkers didn't pan out quite as planned but there were good intentions involved, nobody is perfect. The healthcare reform alot of people disagree with well you need to talk to your local representatives, because they and your locall congressman are the one responsible for loading that bill up with so much pork, to benefit themselves. But this reform if you read through the bill and listen to some analisys' will actually lower the national deficit as time goes on. The financial reform was put into place to avert another stock market crash, by regulating and monitoring companies that get to big and threaten the system. He also put in place a committee to oversee the houseing and houseing financing sector to make sure that people were not being put into mortgages that they could not afford again. This country has had hard ships the last couple of years due to the previous cabinet and was inherited by obama. Every one whines and complains about the money that had to be spent to keep this nation afloat but nobody says anything about the previous office spending over 10 billion dollars a month in a war justified by lies and false leading. So before you burn obama at the stake ask your self if this country is better off now than it was when he took over.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  2. Ron Nospam

    American Conservatives will apparently believe ANYTHING! Little wonder this country is in such a mess.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  3. Tamade

    This just shows we have a lot of idiots in this country.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  4. sadness

    funny how all the racist came out of the woodwork when we got a black pesident.............
    these are sad day's in this country!

    August 19, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  5. roger

    @ J.T.

    you said:
    The interesting this is that while many people here tout Obama as a "constructionalist" seperationalist (church and state, even though its not in the consitution, but in a letter T.Jefferson wrote)



    August 19, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  6. midwest

    I did not vote for him , but I believe President Obama to be an intelligent, fair minded, listening, citizen with good intentions. I just disagree with his politics. I have great respect for the man. And I must say that as a Christian myself, I almost wish he were a Muslim. I think it is very sad the bad rap that Muslims get in this country, which comes really from ignorance. The fanatics that terrorized this country on 9/11 and that continue to do so throughout the Middle East, are no more Muslim than the fanatics that claim to be Christian and then proceed to kill the doctors that perform abortions.

    Wake up people. Step out of your fear and ignorance. What do you really even KNOW about Islam? Do you feel the way you do because of what you have 'heard'...........because it's certainly not a result of what you have 'learned'.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  7. Kofi

    Pres. Obama's not christian? i'm laughing. 'cause it would seem to fit right in with the birthers notion that the Pres. isn't even american! but i guess if the media can make you see Pres. Obama as a "black President" instead of a "President of the United States" who happens to be a black man, then seeing him in any other negative light should be easy as pie. So now he's not a christian but a muslim. what's next? i bet you that Pres. Obama wasn't even born on this planet!

    August 19, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  8. Brian Wirt

    We don't want to rise above 911, especially if being told to do so by a Muslim. Americans DO NOT want the mosque built near ground zero.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  9. Brian Wirt

    We don't want to rise above 911, and especially if being told this by a Muslim. Americans DO NOT want the Mosque built near ground zero.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  10. Colin

    He has to purport to be Christian, but I think he is agnostic or atheist. No politician could ever get elected as either, given the political power of the Christian Taliban in the USA, so he "churchers" when necessary.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  11. mtnthc

    This just in, 1 in 5 are morons

    August 19, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  12. Bostonian01

    I actually think that you shouldnt be able to ask the religion of a president just as you cant for any other job interview. As the president, on 1.20.09 Obama became a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, if it is practiced in this country, that is what he became that day. He is the representative of the people of the United states. The person we elected to think of our interests as a whole. Not to only reprsent and stand for the religion and beliefs of a majority or the minority...ALL citizens. I feel that all presidents should have to attend a worship service of all they represent and have a real understanding of all faiths. I think its a true victory when 100% of the people dont know what faith the president is...that means that we have finally managed to separate church from state and are making decisions based on the law.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  13. SimpleMan

    You can say all you want but here is what our constitution says:
    Amendment 1 – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791. Note

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    Amendment 1 applies to everybody including president Obama.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  14. peace2all

    Give it rest...!!! "he's not really an american citizen..etc..etc..." Now...." he's really a muslim and not a christian!"

    It seems that the 1 in 5 americans who believe he is a muslim are below the i.q basic standard...... scratch that .... I'll include the 1 in 3 who believe he is a christian as well...

    You guys have GOT to be kidding about this article...really...?


    August 19, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  15. Rose

    Obama told the Egyptian president he was a muslim. So if Obama said it, then I believe it. So what?

    August 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  16. shelly

    Who cares and why? Freedom of Religion should be alive and well...is it not, really?

    August 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  17. IamMyVoice


    August 19, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  18. KC

    If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck...

    August 19, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • nonesuch

      If it posts like and idiot...

      August 20, 2010 at 8:29 am |
  19. Blkman

    AND so what if he were, does that make him a good or bad President? GROW up stupid people.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  20. afb

    I would rather have a Muslim president who is a great and honest leader than a Christian president who is either corrupt or has no clue. Actually, can we just have an Athiest president?

    August 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
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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.