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. MAQ

    There are bunch of really stupid and ignorant people in this country. and you wonder why this country is in such a mess?

    August 19, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  2. Reality

    Obama rode to the Blood-Red House on the backs of 35+million aborted womb-babies!!! i.e. he is not a Christian

    August 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • Ann

      Interesting that the word abortion, or what it means, is not found in the Bible. It is a litmus test put out by man. Being a Christian is believing that Christ is your Lord and Savior and it means being Christ like in every way. Thou shalt not kill means period: the unborn, death penalty. Love you neighbor as you love Christ. You know the 10 commandments that you loud 'Christians" ignore whenever expedient? Judging others is as un -Christlike as you can get....you don't decide who is a true believer, Christ does. Scripture warns against those that put up rules and practices to prove that they are a Christian.

      August 19, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  3. Reality

    Obama rode to the Blood-Red House on the backs of 35+million aborted womb-babies!!!

    (The fastest growing USA voting bloc: The 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year.)

    i.e. the Immoral Majority now rules the land and will do so in the foreseeable future. How very sad and disturbing!!!

    Popular vote
    69,456,897 for BO 59,934,814 for JM

    BO would simply add more stain to any church or mosque that he attends.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  4. amused

    If you think about the headline then you understand that one in five Americans are idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  5. amused

    From reading the headline... one in five americans must be idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  6. catmom13

    Actions speak louder than words. The answer is quite clear.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  7. DownToEarth8

    @loophole: You said this
    "The destruction of this country is happening quickly enough without muslims helping it along – too much freedom is allowing all this deterioration. Too much alternative thinking isnt working out well at all. There is a difference between freedom and 'frilly liberties', and those liberties is what is devaluing what our parents and grandparents fought to preserve. Not this socialist world that is already being planned out and executed."

    Oh yeah. All this freedom SUCKS. The land of the free is destined to falter because of all our frilly libirties. Lets just go back to the days of your grandparents, like you say, where 'separate but equal' was all the rage and women didnt have the right to vote.

    The freedom to practice any religion is just awful...And whats with this "civil rights" fad?
    The idea of everyone being equal is a stupid frilly libertie...Those damn founding fathers. What were they thinking? But hey, at least we still have the freedom to own a firearm and are the country with the highest, most staggering death rate from gunfire. And thank JESUS that women dont have equal wages and gays can't get married.

    (To the 1 in 5 numskulls of america who believe everything theyre told and potentially agree with anything said in the previous two paragraphs, those last two paragraphs were me being sarcastic...And to loophole: Are you F***ing kidding me dude?)

    August 19, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  8. awaomd

    you guy obama is christian is not are problem if Muslim or christian that his life
    why Americans are so piki everybody nose about ramadan is national
    my friend is christian and she nose about radandan that don t mean she is Muslim you guy s need to chill
    fix your economy and stop talking about the presindent life. their better things do about America.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  9. Lloyd Cata

    Absolutely amazing, but why does this not surprise me. IMAGINE if Barack Obama was hosting Saudi royalty on 9/11, and then quickly spirited them out of the country....it certainly would be time for "Second Amendment remedies". Oh, but that was George Bush who was entertaining the Moslem potentates at the Western White House on 9/11, so that's no problem.

    Much is being said about American education these days. Well, this is a perfect indication of the status of that education, even among those supposedly highly educated. If Americans can't even get this right, how is the world ever to trust that the decisions coming from American leaders are in any way informed and considered.

    An absolute political comedy...and the joke IS the intelligence of the American people.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  10. Rickmeister

    Al Queda attacked the U.S. not the whole moslem religion.

    Catholics and protestants have been serial killers.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  11. Chris

    People believed Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11. Whats new Americans will believe anything and everything. We're like stupid little children.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  12. S Kimbro

    1 in 5 are idiots!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  13. omnin

    For the stupid people:
    America is 65% white.
    They only poll in a majority white state.
    They do not poll young people with cell phones.
    They only poll poor white racist that are at home in the middle of the day and who are too broke to pay the $5 to be on the no call list.
    And it's mostly the klan that they are calling anyway.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  14. Solomon

    Obama to me takes chances and sometimes it pays off as well as sometimes doesn't in a big way. Incident with Harvard professor getting arrested by the police should not of been argued by him, period end of story. All us get discriminated by police it is a fact, but for Obama to voice his experiences as a student during his Harvard days politically is pointless. Calling a cop acting stupidly, and then recanting the statement from learning new information not wise.

    Doing the same thing with the Mosque situation. Oh course it is legal to build a mosque near the location of ground zero, and a positive public approval rating with the Muslim voters in the USA and supporters around the world obviously– Obama should of stayed far away from this matter as possible. I'm not Einstein or claim to be a political analyst, but does it take one to foretell this will just give his oppositions a window to make his decisions on certain matters to be flip-flopping. For instance, it is constitutional for all Americans to have the rights to pray anywhere on this great country, but the sensitivity and gravity of this matter should make some amendment to this case. Again, recanting statements using the wording "wisdom" is not suffice, either you do or either you aint.

    Obama like all other president before him are not perfect by no means, however this current leader like he stated in h.is acceptance speech, "we will have false starts", so these matters to me sound like a couple ones.

    Democrat Party doing a wonderful job with the economy by making necessary changes in Financial reform to Health care reforms as well as extending unemployment compensation when the American people need the most.

    Still believe in my president, yes I do!

    August 19, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  15. Steve

    Palin and Beck said he's a Muslim... It must be true!!! (eye roll)

    August 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • Ann

      From two of the most un Chris like people in the public eye today. They have totally forgotten the 10 Commandments. Beck says to watch out for church groups that say we must help the poor...its a scam for socialist control. That makes Christ a socialist for he said that as you treat others, you treat me. Being a Christian is not about passing a human made litmus test for all to see.

      August 19, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  16. DownToEarth8

    Remember when every talking point of the right used to be ended with the phrase, “...or else the terrorists will win!” Remember the idea of us uniting and cooperating under one banner to make for a stronger, more patriotic country? Well, their hypocrisy is being displayed in full force by these tabloid claims that Obama is a Muslim. These claims are doing NOTHING to help the country, and are further promoting fear, hate, and reckless non-cooperation with this president that is only going to HARM THE COUNTRY. Isn’t that what the terrorists want? Don’t they want us to have these meaningless internal rifts? Isn’t this anti-Muslim sentiment just something that could possibly give the few extremist Muslims something to get mad about?

    These ridiculous accusations are being hawked by people who wield the power of words like a kid who’s just found his dads handgun. They have no restraint, no journalistic or political integrity, and no regard for the power or ramifications of what they’re saying. (Limbaugh, Beck, Bauchmann, Palin, to name a few.) These people are all equating Muslim with Terroist. Mosque with terrorist fort (And its not even a mosque, it’s a muslim center which is more a community center than an actual place for worship.) These hateful and thoughtless messages are what tarnish this great nation and everything it stands for. The problem isn’t a President who has done nothing but work for this country, with no support from the whiny, “country first” conservative right, and actually has done much more than he has been credited with.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  17. tony

    Obama is muslim. That is why he bowed before the saudi king Abdullah, who is one of the biggest terrorists. That is also the reason that he supports the mosque being built near ground zero in new york. Soon king abdullah, the terrorists, will be financing the mosque in newyork, through inter mediaries. The next that you will see is that a mosque will be built in the white house, to accomodate US's obama. This is what obama calls 'upholding the constitution of the United states of america". If USA is in need of money, you do not have to sell your self respect to arabs and muslims to build mosques. There are a million respectful/better ways. If americans are fine with a muslim sympathizer as president, then relect the democrats and obama for a second term. As for bloomberg, may be he needs some favours from King abdullah the terrorists.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  18. mabel floyd

    interesting atats-the number of people who think obama is muslim is about the same umber that listens to fox fake news-
    maybe they can see russia from their back porch too.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  19. Cliff

    The remarks on here make two strong points.
    1. Few, if any, have any knowledge of what the Word of God says about being a Christian.
    2. Obama wraps himself in a coat of lies daily yet so many continue to believe his every world.
    Sorta reminds one of "dumb and dumber!"

    August 19, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  20. joego

    In Islam if your father was a Muslim then you are too. And Obama's father was a Muslim. Sharia law also dictates that once a Muslim always a Muslim. Just like all previously conquered Muslim lands must be reconquered. (Sorry Israel) I guess Americans are still doubting about the true goals of Islam.

    Two wars, Trillions of dollars and Americans are still trying to figure it out. If you just look at history and understand what the Koran actually says you will see why the distinction between Radicals and Moderates blurs just like the enemy in our two wars. Islam operates from the dictates of the Koran and it says to be a good Muslim you need to participate in Jihad to spread Sharia law. Learn more about Islam at;


    August 19, 2010 at 2:19 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.