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. frogger

    so basically this article is restating the fact that 1 in 5 american people are idiots.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  2. IggyDad

    "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." HL Menken
    Jeez, I wish that wasn't even more true today.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  3. Susan Blystont

    Do they think the American people are stupid???? Of course Obama is muslim and he is setting this country up to fall. He is a dangerous man and should never have been elected president of this great country to begin with. The ONLY reason he was elected because of the color of his skin. This man is out to destroy America. I hate everything he stands for because everything he believes in is anti-american. Getting these biased news journalists get on TV and deny Obama is muslim they should save their breath and energy. Obama needs to go.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  4. Thorrsman

    I wonder how many people remember that this all started with Hillary's campaign against Obama? One of the many rumors started by the Clinton smear machine. And as always, the Dems blame the Republicans for their own dirty deeds.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
  5. Chris

    Religion again, shows it's as useless as can be...

    Completely has people programmed and ignorant. You all cling to it as if you really are holy and in the right but fail to realize the truth of it: To become a better person through sacrifice, contemplation and hardship.

    These 'Christians' are so bothered by a simple location that they will never know harmony.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  6. Jon-Michael Britain

    Once again, some people will do and say anything to dicredit the sitting president. It started with he not being born on American Soil. The when Mr. Obama produced his birth certificate, they said its forged. Now he is a muslim. SO WHAT!!! This is the United States of America!!!!! This country was founded on religious freedom and beliefs. He WON the election fair and square. I would say by a landslide.... If he reads the Qoran insted of the Holy Bible, that is HIS business... The president doesn't owe anybody any proof of his religious convictions. All the President owes us is to do his job...

    August 19, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  7. oldenough

    Of course the presidents faith matters. While the presidents faith might not be a prerequisite for the office, if it matters to him then it affects what he does and how he thinks which also affects us. It matters to all Americans oherwise why would anyone have an opinion on it. The atheist does not want the president to make decisions that consider what the Christian wants (one example: no abortion); The muslin community lives by the Quaran which has a philosophy that all infidels (Christians & Atheists & Jews) are dogs and should not be allowed to live; The Christians have a philosophy of love and sanctity of life (no abortions). It is not complicated to see these are in conflict with each other. Since there is no way the President can make all Americans happy with his decisions, he is supposed to represent the majority. And according to the polls, the majority of the American people are not happy with the decisions being made by our President. He would be wise to listen; and the liberals should accept the fact that they are in the minority right now. It is childish and immature to call each other derogatory names when we don't get our way. Atheists are not stupid...Muslims are not stupid..... Christians are not stupid.....and Jews are not stupid. We just have a different faith and obviously a different expected destination. Debates or arguments that resort to insults and put downs are a real turnoff and show the author to be lacking in communication skills.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  8. madashell

    Obama reaffirms his faith in God by looking in the mirror. In his mind, there is no higher power. Discussions of whether he's Christian or Muslim are moot. He strictly worships at his own altar.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  9. Rock God

    1 in 5 Americans think Sponge Bob Squarepants is a real person.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  10. Mike

    What a sad testiment to the average American intelligence. 1 out of 5? I suppose I should be happy it's not 1 out of 2 but I strongly suspect our stupity will continue to rise to the occasion. God I can't wait to retire and move to a sane country!

    August 19, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  11. AmerLady100

    I am constantly amazed at how easily people are swayed by a lie and by a slander, as though being Muslim is somehow evil. The president is Christian. Yet the lie grows. I am very concerned for this country. The truth should not just be spoken in the media, it should also be spoken in our pulpits. But that is where part of the problem lies. True Christians will speak out and declare the lie for what it is and denounce it. False Christians will continue to spread it. I'll watch with terrible fascination to see what happens between now and the midterms and from then until 2012. Who will speak the truth? Who will continue to bear false witness? What is happening to the soul of our country?

    August 19, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  12. Jeanine

    SM...maybe as a Christian the President understands that a "National Day of Prayer" is simply a modern way the pharisee prays in public to garner attention to his holiness. Jesus taught that prayer should be done alone and in quiet, without witnesses to view your devotions.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  13. Darhorse13

    Why does it matter what the President's religion is ? The U.S. may as well do away with the 1st Admendment, freedom of religion. With the history of Christians do we really want to throw stones at other religions ?

    August 19, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  14. Jon

    I'm thinking that the people that think Obama is a Muslim are probably some in-bred disgruntled and P.O.'ed GOP degenerates that have an ax to grind because there isn't a white male protestant as President. Now they are crying, whining, and sobbing like little babies. Boo hoo, hoo, hoo for them. Would you like some wine with that cheese? These racists probably don Klu Klux Klan confederate flags and probably beat their wives regularly while shooting their guns because they are compensating for their short manhoods. Personally, I hope these stupid people will not breed.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  15. Remy Overkempe

    Who cares?

    August 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  16. michael greene

    Why does CNN treat this as an Obama problem ? It is surely a frightening problem for the American people. How is it possible that the people of this leader of the civilized, educated and democratic world can be so ignorant of basic facts.
    This lack of knowledge leaves the American people open to brain-washing of all types – which goes a long way in explaining how the Bush goverment could push so much lies down peoples' throats, such as the reasons to justify going to war in Iraq etc.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  17. mike

    Well that figures about 1 in 5 people are moron republicans so there ya go. Honestly how serious can you take them when not 2 years ago they were calling Obama a rasist for going to the first unity Church of CHRIST for 20 years. But now hes a muslim because he decided it was more important to uphold the 1st amendment then promote fear and take people freedoms away like the republicans want ot do to everyone thats not a white christain conservitive.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  18. Jerrie M

    My personaal opinion is that President Obama is very much a good CHRISTIAN man. He certainly prays and has done a great job with his sweet daughters.Michelle is a very good mother to her daughter's and all who have met her is very
    impressed with her being a good person, wife and mother.
    She is a great First Lady and seems to really care deeply..I really like this wonderful Family. Good Luck to President Obama and let's get our country back to our old values of decency.Our Children are not being taught manners and our Society reflects this.L et's make the changes our society needs for the sake of our Children. TV needs to show more respect.
    I shall pray for President Obama and his family, our Country needs this now.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  19. Ousby

    Even if Obama was Muslim, then what. So he can't be president because he's Muslim. What a shame for Americans, they've been brain washed by this stupid Media who feed them whatever they want. People just know what's going on in America, so travel a bit and see what's being shown on TV in other places to see the true America. Always blaming other countries for doing bad things, whe they know they're hidding the really bad things they're doing themselves. so sad America.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  20. mike

    And what would be the % of republicans in the electorate; maybe 1 in 5. Are you really this stupid? It's hard to believe that you are. It's much easier to imagine that you prefer to quote a poll than do any actual journalistic work. And that's easy to understand since you're really just media figures anyway – too bad about the journalism thing.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:04 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.