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. rose

    GREAT JOB OBAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!KEEP IT UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
  2. Lindsay

    What does it matter what Religion our President is?! Doesn't it state in the first amendment "Right to religious freedom"? Where does it say in all of the rules/laws governing over how a person can be president does it say that He/she has to be Christian? Why does everyone care? I personally do not care if he is Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or even Wiccan so long as he does his job. Shouldnt THAT be what we are concerned about?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  3. Matt

    Most of the ignorant people who believe this are right-wing bigots who already hate Obama. They also believe he's a communist and a Nazi and that he's not even an American because he wasn't born here. These people are ignorant fools who have been lead by misinformation that's deliberately and maliciously created by the right-wing of the Republican party in an effort to scare people. They are trying their best to equate Muslim with terrorist and it's working with these fools. The White House should not pander to these people, they shouldn't try to correct them ....they should just ignore this because responding to this nonsense does nothing more than add fuel to the fire.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  4. Jami Lives

    Really...no really does it matter what religon he is? i just care how well a job he does. is this really breaking number one news. its funnny how in the begining of the month we went from border secuirty problems to 14 amendment problem to anchor baby to terror baby to Obama.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  5. Khaled

    What is wrong with some people? Are they idiots? Pres.Obama is not a Muslim. Even if he was, so what? isn't America supposed to be a country who gives everyone a chance? So why are Americans being so prejudice to Islam and rude to Obama? Because there are those primitive humans who have those primitive human ways. Man, people just need some reason to hate Obama, because they hate Muslims, and God doesn't like haters. Just because Obama's father was Muslim, they try to use that to say he is too. Obama helped the America better, think and look, before Obama where was America and after he was President, America started to get back up on its feet. If you want to hate someone hate yourself and Osama Bin Laden, (Obama haters), because you are no better than the extremist, who act like they are Muslim. You should be ashamed for being rude to your President. Islam is a religion of peace, if a Muslim is violent in the manner that the terrorist are, they are not Muslim anymore.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  6. Heidi

    Despite the interview with Rev. Kirby John Caldwell (who is 1,000% uninformed with the laws of Judaism and Islam) on Rick's List, the truth remains that Obama is a Muslim, albeit an apostate Muslim. As was pointed out by the Rev. Graham, if one is born to a Muslim father (or a Jewish mother), as Obama was, one is a Muslim. Both Islam and Judaism are religions into which a person is born. Christianity is a religion of choice, and not one of lineage. One cannot "convert" out of Islam or Judaism. One can go through the process, one can be baptized, one can practice a different religion, claim they are a different religion, and even change their belief system, however, according to Islam (and Judaism) all that is accomplished is the change of status to apostate. The Islamic world does, in fact, claim Obama as one of theirs (and an apostate to be brought back to Islam, or killed). Christian Baptism has no bearing on the Islamic (or Jewish) world any more than it does on a person's race or gender. Those things are immutable, and non-changeable. That is something Christians have no concept of, as it is a religion of personal choice, and project their beliefs and ideas onto the other two religions, despite the fact that they (Islam and Judaism) do not work that way, as they are predominantly legal and communal systems more than religions. Therefore, once a Muslim (or Jew), always a Muslim (or Jew), and that's forever.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  7. Yozhik

    New Poll: 70% of Americans believe that 18% of Americans should be deported to a country ruled by a real Muslim.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  8. DumbAmerican

    Not only Obama is Muslim, he is also protected by the black panthers.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  9. rose

    There are better things to talk about then figuering out if he is Muslim or not! We have better issues to ttalk about like WORLD HUNGER...WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST.....NOT ASSUMING OR IF HE IS WHO CARES GET A LIFE WHO EVER DID THAT SURVEY OR QUESTION.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
  10. Norma Jean

    Obama hosted a dinner at the White House for Ramadon, but would not stand up for the National Day of Prayer (Pentagon). Actions speak louder than words.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  11. james r

    he's admitted in interviews, then the Useful-Idiot interviewer corrects him "you mean Christian". Even if he isn't true, he's an incompetent inexperienced man who never should've been elected. Spare me the "Bush was stupid" intelligent retorts because history is on the side of failure for the Left and if ANY of them would read a history book, they'd learn that all by their little selves. Counting the days till November bwahaha!!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
  12. bonnetwagon

    What did President Obama find WRONG with Islam that he left it to become a Christian ? And why are the Muslims not after him like they do any one who leaves Islam ?

    August 19, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  13. windrider2

    The headline ought to read "More Americans Get Stupid". Not surprisingly, the increase in this belief is all taking place at the right wing fringes of the Republican Party. What a surprise. The GOP caters increasingly to paranoia and barely disguised racism in their bid to regain power so they can continue bankrupting the country and transferring what little wealth is NOT in the hands of the rich directly TO the rich, leaving everyone else destitute, including many of their supporters. Tea Party members didn't complain while Bush and the Republicans ran up a $7.6 trillion deficit in Bush's first 6 years. Now they scream as if Democrats simply produced this massive hole all by themselves in just 2 years. The housing market collapsed in 2005 while Republicans controlled everything, but the right wing masses say it was totally caused by liberal Democrats...Republicans had nothing to do with it. I think they are handing out a lot more stupid pills from Fox News these days.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  14. Mike

    One in five is correct about Obama's religion.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  15. Mike Buck

    It is a good thing the poll did not ask people to to distinguish if they thought Obama was Sunni or Shia. President Bush didn't know the difference when he called for the invasion of Iraq so you know the Palin supporters who are "fightin' ta protect our Constitutional rights" would have no clue. These are the same morons who keep demanding to see Obama's birth certificate but didn't know John McCain was born in Panama. They need to fill out an ID TEN T form. Idiots!

    August 19, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
  16. Nan

    Article III of the Bill of Rights
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    By declaring this a Christian nation you are ignoring Article Three of the Bill of Rights. This country was based on freedom of religion. Who are you to decide what religion a person should accept? Who are you to decide what people should believe in?

    August 19, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
  17. Sensible Joe

    Americans need to read the Constitution of the United States, Article 6 of which says: "No religious test shall ever be required as a 1ualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

    In other words, it doesn't matter, by law of our land, what religion the President of the United States is. What matters is that he/she does his/her job: to uphold the Constitution, enforce the law and put into action legislation passed by Congress and legal interpretation passed down from the courts.

    Since President Obama doesn't worship at a mosque, appeal to the Quran, advocate Sharia law, keep Ramadan, abstain from pork or alcohol, or make pilgrimages to Mecca, there's no logical reason to presume he is Muslim. Just as there is no logical reason to presume that his predecessor, who waged offensive war, authorized torture and advocated for the richest over the poorest in diametric opposition to the values of Jesus Christ's gospel, was a Christian.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  18. Susan Blystone

    Do they think the American people are stupid? Of course Obama is muslim. This man is a dangerous man and he is setting America up to fall. He bankrupting this country on purpose. The only reason he was elected in the first place was the color of his skin. He is a disgrace to this country and I hate everything he stands for because everything he stands for anti=american. He has got to go.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
    • AndyTheGameIventor

      "The only reason he was elected was the color of his skin"?

      Yeah, that must be right.... a white guy has an inherent disadvantage when running for office. Been that way for generations in America.

      August 19, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  19. Daisy Murphy

    This only proves the growing stupidity of the American public.
    No wonder a British scholar referred to Americans as " the stupidest people on earth".
    This is supposed to be a secular country.. why should ANYONE have to wear their religion on their sleeve.. like most of the
    phonies who do just that.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  20. programmergirl

    I used to think Obama was a Christian. But as he fully supports building the Mosque at Ground Zero, did not observe National Prayer Day and the only church we know him to be associated with has a pastor that rants and raves against America. I have strong doubts. The fact that his father is Muslim..... Hmmm.... I do now believe that Obama is Muslim and his policies are all for Muslims to have their way, increase their influence here in the States and do whatever they want to. I never thought I'd say this, but I wish now that Hillary had been elected. I have no doubts about her religion... OR her place of birth!

    August 19, 2010 at 7:21 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.