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. BMaryland

    Big sigh. Eye roll.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  2. BC-Texas

    WOW! At the rate this is being spinned, is it a Good Thing to be a Christian. I am a Christian, But, I am so ashamed to be found amongst these who are using Christianity as a Cover UP for what they truly are... Wolves in Sheep Clothing– Pure Evil!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
  3. Sally

    Some Americans have an uneducated view on Islam, they think it's the cause to all their problems, and thats why so many Americans think Obama is a Muslim. They just want to equate him to something they don't understand, or don't want to understand.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
  4. jd

    i hate yall races people!!!!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
    • Abdo

      Mr Berg, It's probably a good idea to set up a rtioseratgin page for people who are wishing to attend. On this page, you should have a donations section, to raise money to ensure shuttle buses and train fares are supplied to all who wish to attend. The website will help people guage the size of the movement, and the more people they see signed on, the more they will feel that they too should register to protest. It's time to get serious, and not do this in a half hearted manner. Make sure the people know that you are willing to help get them to the event, that they will be fed at the event, and that they will have protection at the event, ie, hiring of your own security forces to ensure your saftey (never been done before in a protest, and I have never heard any laws suggesting this is illegal). Think smarter, Mr Berg, not harder. What you need is;-1)Registration of interest website, detailing time, place, and collection of donations for transport, security, and refreshments/hotdogs.2)Logistics team to put together the event security strategy, the distribution of information, and transportation.3)Unemployed volunteers to keep the people refreshed with water and hotdogs. They don't have to be unemployed, but unemployed people have more time to share right now.4)Respected members of the community, to talk at the event, such as ex politicians, and business owners. They must show clearly why Obama's presidency is not qualified, and why it is more than dangerous to the American people.If build it they will come .Emeritus

      August 1, 2012 at 2:47 am |
  5. Jim

    20% of Americans are as backward and hateful as the Taliban and Al Queda are. Another 10% – 20% more are working on being that ignorant by letting the talking heads in the media whip them into fearful, mindless hysteria.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
  6. Jimbo

    This only proves on thing: that the fascist right wing in this country have been successful in brainwashing a certain segment of the population.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
  7. Scott

    Seperation of Church and State. I don't want to know what religion Obama practices, nor do I care. Keep your religion out of my politics!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:55 pm |
  8. Paul Canuck

    Only in America!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
  9. Josh

    I find it pretty obvious that Obama's an atheist, after his "hillbillies cling to guns and religion" comment (which I agree with 100%, btw).

    August 19, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  10. David

    I'm surprised that it is only 1 in 5. From reading these posts, I'm thinking 3 out of 5 live in trailer parks and 2 in 5 have so much as a high school education. We are well on the way to the America displayed in the movie 'Idiocracy'.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  11. Raymond

    "Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians - whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve" (2:62, 5:69) THE QURAN

    "...and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, 'We are Christians,' because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant" (5:82) THE QURAN

    August 19, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
  12. Jessica

    Its nice Obama supports the Islamic Center citing religious freedom, why doesn't he support the rebuilding of the only church ( a Christian church) in NYC to be destroyed by Islamic terrorists on 9/11? They have been waiting 9 years to rebuild, and have not been given the approval. Why don't you help them Mr. President & Mayor Bloomberg?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
  13. Cliff Vegas

    Amen Albert. Those who use God's name and His word to scorn other sinners are themselves committing multiple and egregious sins. The increasing vitriol over who is worthy, who is righteous between all religions but in particular Christians and Muslims is as bad as the fight between Conservatives and Liberals. History could find that it was the argument – not the issues at hand – that did the worst damage to this country.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:37 pm |
  14. BW

    Ok! So normally I dont comment on these type of blogs but I feel that I must considering the topic. First of all, President Obama is not a Muslim. Because he reaches out to the Muslim people to heal the divide that exists between them and many Americans does not mean he is Muslim. Nor, does any of his statements about or from the Quron make him a Muslim. President Obama's Christian faith is between he and God. Not man. God is the ultimate judge. I am a Christian, and a strong supporter of President Obama. I do not agree with every policy, but in general I think he is doing a great job as president. The President is correct that Muslim Americans have the right to build a temple of worship in the United States of America anywhere it is lawful. Our constitution makes this right one of every American. The United States of America is not a religious republic nor does it have a state religion – that is antithetical to the founders intentions. Further more, lets not be too swift to point soft arguments at one group. Christians (and I am a strong believer in Jesus Christ) have caused more hell in this world than anyother religious group. Let's not forget the Holy Crusades, Slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings wars started on the basis of lies, 400 years of slavery and so many other things that many of our "Christian" Presidents, leaders and preachers have endorsed and supported. America is a great nation and I wouldnt want to live anywhere else. But if we are followers of Christ we must not be so swift to judge and remember the proposition that Jesus gave us – He who is without sin cast the first stone.

    President Obama is a God fearing man that I am sure loves the Lord. Because he does not flaunt or discuss his personal relationship with God for Americans to disect doesnt decide his faith. Many Americas are easily enticed by drama into the nothingness of foolishness. Instead of poking and proding the President of the United States on an issue that has nothing to do with us, let us seek ways to honor the constitution and allow for Americans to worship freely and peacefully as the document promises regardless of faith, event or creed. If you dont want that to be, then change the constitution via due process.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
  15. person

    Another example of how the Obama presidency did not show that America has become a tolerant and open minded society. It just merely opened up the gate for the racists and ignorant to come out from hiding.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  16. ash

    They may say he's Muslim but they know he is not. Nothing new. The usual hate-mongering and fear-mongering routine. And then there are those who are too lazy to do their own research and believe all the lies they are told. Hey, Limpo, Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld say they are Christians and THAT'S definitely not something I believe. Not for a moment, judging by their mouths and actions.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
  17. John 1776

    I think the reason there are some out the that believe he is Muslim is that the punishment for converting to Christianity is death. As there are not many in the Muslim world bringing this up, one starts wondering if he ever actually converted.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  18. eric

    Only white people think that he's a muslin. Even the ones who know he isn't will say so. Anything to tarnish him. They can't find anything wrong with him so they has to make things up. White Republicans. We know who are saying that. the people who watch Fox News. Sick people, I feel sorry for them.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  19. Brent

    Wouldn't 18% correlate with the percentage of Americans who are functionally retarded?

    August 19, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
  20. SusieQ

    Someone needs to call this correctly for what it is – the result of huge propaganda machines churning like Fox. Rupert Murdock said there would be payback for his not being able to buy those networks. He hates America and found a way to destroy from within with the addition of the internet rumor mill available to Republicans and Evangelical Christians that radicalize everything. PROPAGANDA!

    August 19, 2010 at 9:10 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.