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. Brian

    Awesome. The country has gone full retard

    August 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  2. bomberboy

    I really think that the republicans and FOX news and all the right-wing zealots have done a great job in the Dumbing-down of this country.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  3. Austin

    I don't care if he worships spider monkeys, so long as he keeps cleaning up the Bush mess.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
  4. Austin

    This is insane. I have never in my life heard of people arbitrarily doubting a public figure's religion before.

    Nobody else gets to decide what faith I am. Nobody else gets to decide what faith you are. So where are all these people getting the idea they get to "decide" what faith the President is?

    August 19, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
    • mike

      Austin, I agree. I think republicans are so unfamiliar with telling the truth, another lie is just par for the course. That's why they're not suprised or disgusted when thier politicians lie to them. Consider how many listen to Rush knowing full well he's lieing to them. They admire him because he tells the lies they want to hear

      August 19, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  5. jeff

    Time to come out of closet Mr. Atheist, It's time for America grow up.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  6. jeff

    His Grandfather was muslim, his Dad was an Atheist and he is a closeted Atheist.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
  7. FilmCapn

    I think this is a pathetic attempt to gain credibility in hopes to be re-elected. I am more inclined to believe he has a combination of Islamic and Christian beliefs, but if he is such the self-proclaimed Christian he says he is, than why is he so pro-abortion? I smell BS.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  8. Nancy

    1 out of 2 thinks he's a jacka ss

    August 19, 2010 at 5:41 pm |

    why are there SO many stupid uneducated americans?

    August 19, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
  10. David L E

    He has been tried and he is true. You are not perfect. Please leave him alone. He is hier to all that is wrong with this country

    August 19, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  11. OMDUSA

    Because Obama neither fears nor hates Muslims like a typical right-wing nutjob, he must be a Muslim. It obviously cannot be because the President is an educated and intelligent human being. There is nothing Obama can do or say that would convince some people that he (Obama) was not a Muslim. In any case, who the hell gives a damn what religion he is? I am sick of people who are obsessed with the President's religion. As if Christian Presidents have not nearly destroyed this country (and the world) many times over that we should have something against a President who is a liberal and not an insane Christian zealot. Enough with this ridiculous BS already! Shame on you CNN, you pathetic excuse for a news organization!

    August 19, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  12. chessdrummer

    The analogy of Ground Zero to Mecca is really hilarious. Saying Ground Zero is some sacrosanct and holy place is stretching it... especially in a land that was stolen from another people. The point about Muslims allowing churches in Mecca is also off. There are no mosques in Vatican City either. It is a sovereign nation and head of Catholic church. No mosques in the entire country. However, why would Muslims want mosque there? It is a holy center of the Christian faith... New York is not. I believe the cultural center (it's not a mosque) should be build elsewhere, but not because of the hype. It is better to build elsewhere to prevent the harassment of Muslims and terrorist acts on the complex by Christians. Someone will no doubt drive a car into it.... as some nut did in Tallahassee, Florida.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  13. Chris

    I applaud Obama on his decision to not project his religious views when he is in office.. There needs to be a separation of church and state and the President is setting a good example here...

    But with that said, I have to agree that he might have to be a little more public about what he does to be an active christian coz thats what most Americans want... America has always been a christian nation and many misguided religious folks believe being christian equals being a good president...

    August 19, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  14. Deb

    Who cares? I want to know who gets interviewed for these polls anyway. Senior citizens who are home all day with a land line watching Fox News. Most people do not think this or care that much what religion Obama is. I find it extremely refreshing to not have a president frame everything by religion. I think that Obama is not much of any religion, like most of us real people out here, but doesn't dare make a statement like that. The right-wing Christians would have a field day with that one. Why is it that we are all at their mercy?

    August 19, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  15. PatrioticAmerican

    You bet he is a Muslem. He is bent upon socialism, taking our guns away and destroying medicaid. We need to start looking for secret Muslems throughout government and in our collages and schools.

    THe USA is the best country God ever put on this earth and I don't care what no numbers say about how most other developed countries are doing much better in terms of productivity, health, economic growth, living standards, education levels, and all of that other stuff. They ain't as good as the USA because the USA is number one!

    August 19, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • OMDUSA

      You hate what you do not know or understand, and it is obvious you don't know or understand anything. Education FAIL.

      August 19, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
    • Ousby

      Stupid American, get an education then u can talk. America is where they steal from you legally, where they feed you what they want you to hear and blame others for what Americans has done wrong. Being involved in every war they can. FYI the war in the Middle East, America will never win, why? cuz those poeple have been fighting since the dawn of time and will never get tired fighting Americans who what to come rule them. wantin to rule everyone, so evil.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
    • Sensible Joe

      If your lack of spelling, grammar and logic is the future of the USA, we're sunk. I bet you criticize people who don't speak English, yet you can't even use that language correctly or properly yourself.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
  16. Belinda

    This should not be an issue nor a news story!
    President Obama's religious affiliation and citizen status has an undercurrent of race. Although we (America) thought we were ready for a biracial president, I don't think some of our citizens were. If people would listen, understand, and read his life story, they would know he was raised by his Christian grandparents and followed the path they and his mother set before him.

    Proverbs 22:6 (NIV): Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  17. Fayrouz

    Alright. He's a Muslim. So what are you going to do about it? Impeach him?

    August 19, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  18. Dana Matthews

    Why are so many Americans so willing to believe this?
    Can Americans be that STUPID???
    It's no wonder we've dropped from being number 1 in Education to number 12!!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  19. Patty

    I have never seen a picture of him entering a church....and he claims to be Christian?

    August 19, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  20. Val

    the only reason so much of america is concerned about obama's religion s because Evangelical christians have a very high political agenda: they blelive any religion besides their interpretation of christianity is a lie and their ultimate goal is to have a fully-evangelical nation. That's the only reason his religion is brought up.
    we should care less about how and whom to Obama prays and more about his presidential goals and he he is (or isn't) living up to his promises.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:19 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.