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. calsey nez

    i would say that he is not muslim! why? because let me get this straight. he is born in hawaii, he is part of america, but the part that do not care about wether he is christain or different religion. i am a native-american, navajo. i have heard of this before but this include me that i am american and part christaion so that is what i am saying. not the point though!

    August 19, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  2. cafuzo

    I think he's white too. Oh yeah he is. And he's black no African, I mean Kenyan and Muslim. And American. And Christian So what!!!!!!!!!!!!!! America, America, this is America isn't it????

    August 19, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  3. Lewis

    I think he is Moses reincarnated. Wonders around aimlessly and blames the bush. And I voted for the moron.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  4. Danielle

    I do not believe our President is Muslim. It is my opinion, people might think he's Muslim because he seems to be much more tolerant of Muslim faith than Christian faith. I believe Obamas religious attitudes match that of Christians, who call themselves, Progressive Christians. PC's embrace the idea there are many paths of religious faith to the same God. Progressive Christians also believe there are no lifestyle choices in direct disobedience of God and His biblical commands.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  5. Oneijay

    Who cares!!!...... but he did say he's a christian that went to Rev. Wright church for 20yrs. Then again Rev. Wright is a racist so that's not much better!! SMH!!

    August 19, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  6. deuce

    all i see in these comments are people bashing Christianity and exulting Islam. If we were truly free to our own religion, why the christian bashing? Considering 80 percent of americans are christians, i think its hilarious so many people talk trash about the religion but are scared to even mention islam in a bad tone. Is this because you don't see christains blowing themselves up in their jihaed against the non-believers??????

    August 19, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  7. W

    Any non republicans wanna have some fun with true republicans? Watch Fox news then start a debate with your republican friends, if you have any, its classic. All they do is parrot every word they are fed from fox news. None of these people have independent thoughts. I have a really good friend that's a conservative/republican, I mess with him from time to time by starting debates with him but I say everything that's been said on Fox news before him and hes got nothing, its hilarious, yall should try it some time. They get soo frustrated.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  8. sleepyjones

    Obama is doing many of the things he said he would when he was running for president. There have been no surprises. But you persist in calling him a foreigner and using his middle name as a pejorative. These are just hidden terms because you cannot use the N-word. At least Dr. Laura was able to show her true colors. Although she did it wrong. If she really did watch black comics, she would have seen Chris Rock's routine about when white people can use N-word. Here's a hint: She will need to bring her black body guard to the bedroom

    August 19, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  9. billp

    What difference does it make if Obama is Christian? The Christian Right has shown repeatedly that you can say you are Christian while not following Christ's teachings.

    "I like your Christ. Christians, not so much." – Mahatma Gandhi

    August 19, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  10. indiana5

    obama is converted to christianity. he was born in a muslim family because his father was a muslim. his early teaching in christianity has made him a christian. he is not a fanatic christian. he respects all religions. he is very much inflenced ny hindu and buddhist religions and philosophy also. in his child hood days in indonesia brought him in contact with eastern religions like hinduism and buddhism and these gave him good philosophical background. he also noted some of good elements in islam in those days such as its spirituality. afterwards he found that islam is connected to violence and intolerance. that is the time he became a converted christian. he would like to see muslims become moderates, but one thing is not clear to him is that a moderate muslim is identified as "kafirs" or infidels or non religious per quoranic teachings. obama is a politician and has to be equal to everyone but at the same time he needs to protect his country and other religions.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  11. Curtis

    Dear Lord/Allah, please protect us all from your worshipers. Amen.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  12. 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 freaking kidding me dude?)

    August 19, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  13. tim

    Oh America. Bad sign that 20% of the U.S. is soooo stupid.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  14. andrew

    Opinion polling: the biggest waste of time in news and journalism.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  15. Brian Wirt

    Osamabana's dad was Muslim

    August 19, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • Ann

      So? Once you accept Jesus Christ, the slate is wiped clean. It doesn't matter what you were before that minute or what your relatives are or were. But, hey, that's just what Christ said. I guess all the religious folks just tell us what he MEANT TO SAY; you know, like commentators after an election?

      August 19, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  16. Salem

    What does Islam has anything to do with what happened at Ground Zero?
    Again, a wasteful try to connect Islam to terrorism.
    What do you call the bombing of Baghdad and the unjust killing of children and women by the Republicans? That is
    the real Terrorism !! Thank you Obama for bringing the Troops back home.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  17. CSnord

    I seriously doubt he believes in anything but himself. His religion is probably whatever is expedient at the moment to achieve some goal. I think he HAS made it clear that he sympathizes with and support Muslims at least, if not more than he does other faiths. Personally, I don't really care what he is - it is his disastrous policies that are the problem and his "faith" has little or nothing to do with that.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  18. Brian Wirt

    His Father was Muslim..duh

    August 19, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  19. Signe

    So if Obama said he's christian, then he's christian. I can't believe that in such a freedom-loving country as america, people would think that Obama is muslim, just because he believes in the freedom of religion, as written in the constitution. If he supported gay-marriage, would that make him gay?

    August 19, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  20. DankoRamone

    Of all the things one could care about, and all the things facing our nation, why on earth would anyone care what religion Obama is? Palin identifies herself as Christian, yet her words and actions fail to even attempt to mirror the mindset of Jesus. Realistically, what someone labels themselves as, or others label them as, is irrelevant in a nation that truly is free, and that is how it should be. To be otherwise goes against the reason for our nation's founding.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
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.