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. Hoeech

    "Nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim" So? One in five Americans think Elvis is still alive.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
  2. Dovie

    I believe that too many people are so terrified that a black man is running the country that they will use any excuse to bad mouth him. They will believe any rumor that backs what they want to believe. It is a very racist attitude. Just like the issue with the birth certificate. I do not recall any white president or presidential candidate having to so publicly prove they are a citizen of the United States. Religion, as a matter of faith is a very personal thing and many of those espousing their christian religion are the most unloving people I have ever seen. I believe he is Christian and I also believe that he is familiar with Islam from his upbringing. It should not be anyone's business except his, however, what faith he follows. I find all of the attacks on him by "christians" very unchristian in their flavor and attitude. Woe to you pharisees, woe to you hypocrits that say you follow Jesus but refuse to show his love!

    August 19, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  3. Chuen Tick Teo

    LOL, this 2010, yet almost 20% of Americans can believe their President is a Muslim.
    This is a very telling verdict on the power of misinformation/disinformation!!
    I'm really surprised!!

    August 19, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  4. Bitflogger

    I'm still waiting for improved communication over the internet to improve people's knowledge and worldview.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • Sabine

      anon, I have seen dogs who barked or bite for no resoan. I have also seen dogs and cats being neglected on the streets. Even some dogs with owners is not behaving the right way. Perhaps, the owner did not take care of the dogs properly or neglected the dogs. then I have also seen some horrible scene where asian adults provoked some barking dogs and behaved horribly towards aggressive barking dogs.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:39 am |
  5. yanushscott

    Obama is neither Muslim or Christian; he is quite simply a dangerous IDEALOGUE, driven only by his desire for a "fundamental transformation of the U.S." and will do or say anything to achieve his ends!

    August 19, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
    • Hoeech

      Yes...he wants to "transform" the country from a "gimme mine and screw everyone else" nation to something a little more compassionate and caring. Horrifying.

      August 19, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  6. Steve

    The guy does not seem to practice any religion. He claims he is a Christian and has attended a Christian Church. That is all that is necessary to define oneself. I suspect he is agnostic or atheist but cannot admit that because people wont vote for atheists. I suspect many members of congress are atheist but wont admit it. I wish they would (I am an atheist).

    August 19, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  7. macguysea

    So basically, 1 in 5 are complete idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  8. fatgirl

    All of you so called christians that talk about President Obamba and say all of those hate things aobut him are not going to heaven, because you can't get alone down here. How do you think you will get alone up there. God is listening and watching you. He is not dead, he is omnipresnt. All knowing. I know he reading all of these comments.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  9. Mike

    Who cares if he even is Muslim. Why do people make such a big deal with religion?

    August 19, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
  10. Kevin

    How freakin' stupid – on one hand a majority says they feel he's a muslim, on the other hand, a majority when asked respond they don't know his religion.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  11. Tom

    Like many Americans, the President can identify himself as any religion. The real problem is that many folks don't practice their faith which means it really doesn;t matter what they claim to follow.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  12. DownToEarth8

    This isn't even an issue of right vs left anymore. This is an issue of the extreme right doing anything they can to regain power. I'm fine with debating normal issues with republicans who aren't frothing at the mouth. Not all republicans are Glen Beck..Unfortunately, it seems that sensible republicans are few and far between these days. The fact is that the republicans with the biggest voices (lead by birthers and teabaggers, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and co.) since the Bush era, and especially since Obama took office, have been willing to say and do anything to get their way, no matter how reckless. They display an utter lack of political/journalistic integrity, restraint, and wisdom with some of the things they say and accuse people of.

    -Saying things like the president approved death councils is sheer nonsense.
    -Sarah Palin putting target-crosshairs on the blue states on the map is a complete disgrace.
    -Michelle Bachmann saying that the president will send our children to camps is tastless and dangerous.
    -Republican congressmen/women waving "Don't tread on me flags", and encouraging a mob of angry protesters to antagonize democratic members of congress is an utter slap in the face to this country.
    -Glenn Beck making non-existant connections between incoherent, intolerant, and unintelligent sentence fragments he spews that have nothing to do with each other, and then justifying it all by hiding behind the bible, just spreads his classless messages–messages that his large audience , for whatever reason, actually take seriously.
    -Rush Limbaugh, with his history of racist, intolerant, and sexist comments, showing the same lack of restraint as Beck, helps spread the same type of messages.
    -Just about every person arguing against this "mosque" (eventhough its community center) and questioning Obamas religion ,whether theyre PC about it or not, is just spreading the message that, "Christianity is better than Muslim"...Their rederick on this issue is rank with undertones equating the word "Muslim" to "terrorist" and "mosque" to "terrorist fort".

    All of these non-issues and bogus claims are just ways most of these people can actively display their racist and intolerant beliefs. None of these things contribute to making the country any better, and are far from patriotic. They just hide behind their intolerance behind the fact that its "a sensitive political issue", or the bible, the fact that they're patriots, in order to spread their hateful messages, and more importantly, infuse the voters with passion.Then they vote the sensible people (and thats not just democrats, like I said before, these knuckleheads dont represent all republicans) out of office. If (and its looking more like when) the repubilcans regain control, this country is in for an even tougher road.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • Andrzej

      I would love to get the president an . He could then smoke where he wants and his wife woldun't get mad at him. It would also be great for people to see that one can quit the awfull things.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  13. Scott

    Article VI of the Constitution states "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

    So once again it doesn't mater a damn what the 20% thinks.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  14. John

    I'm enjoying the fact that most of you got this right, and shame on CNN for even posting this report. Those of us who have studied human growth and development know that about 20% of people never mature beyond the age of 12, this poll is not a surprise.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  15. erin

    No one should care what religion the president follows!! Why does every president have to go out of his way to show what a devout follower of Christ he is? Heaven forbid that we have a leader who's NOT Christian in this nation founded on freedom of religion and in which at least 25% of us is not Christian. The fact that people are saying he's a "secret Muslim" as if it would be a bad thing if he WERE Muslim (which any idiot can tell he's not), shows how frightenly bigoted so many people in our country still are.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  16. Scott

    20% of people are really dumb. If we somehow could eject this 20% into space the world would be so much nicer. But we cannot. We simply have to keep putting up with them. The 20%'rs will always be with us.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  17. ModerateFromNYC

    The level of discourse, the grammatical and spelling errors, and the results of this poll bring tears to my eyes. As another poster said, President Obama gives the Harvard answers, and most Americans seem to function at about a 7th grade reading level. As a Harvard graduate, I prefer the guy who's smart enough to give the Harvard answers, and am deeply depressed that so many of our fellow citizens prefer the 7th grade level answers.

    In fact, I don't agree with many of Obama's positions, nor do I necessarily plan on voting for him in the next elections. But I rabidly insist on voting based on the issues and capabilities of candidates, not fictional representations of their birth origins or religious background. Barack Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim – by his own representation, which is good enough for me. And Barack Obama is a natural born American citizen – that is a matter of indisputable fact. Any Republican who says otherwise keeps me that much farther from ever identifying with their party of imbeciles and hooligans.

    Where are the intelligent conservatives? Why have they allowed the Republican party to be overrun by morons? Can't we get back to talking about how to rebuild an economy that actually has substance to it, that makes products domestically other than financial derivatives?

    August 19, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  18. Roz2

    I agree with Manny and Joe. This is really not a story and actually CNN it appears that you are trying to keep stories like this in the forefront. The man is what he says he is, a christian but if he were a muslim what difference would it make? You should be focusing on who sold the land at ground zero to the folks that are building the mosque that is causing all the controversy. President Obama was just trying to uphold the constitution when he made those comments he was not endorsing the idea of building the mosque there.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  19. why

    Obama is not a muslim. And if he was, what difference does it make? Does it really matter?

    August 19, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  20. Ann

    Being a Christian is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not about being public, not about supporting a National Day of Anything. Those that wear their faith and religion on their sleeve are considered boastful and prideful according to Scripture. This is religion. Its not a requirement to hold office in this country. Instead of working on and supporting positive initiatives for bettering our country and helping others, these people get everyone riled up with half truths and innuendos: about as unChristlike as you can get.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
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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.