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. Alexis

    We are surrounded by idiots

    August 20, 2010 at 1:09 am |
  2. Nancy

    It's official. At least 1 in every 5 Americans is a complete moron.

    August 20, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  3. nathalie

    I say why are people all in his personal life? This is America right? This is the land of the free right? So what does it matter. Nosey people yo ugh....Why dont you concentate on your religion

    August 20, 2010 at 12:47 am |
  4. hardworkingamerican

    how many american's died in NY? how many american's have died in the middle east? who hates us and wants us to die. what group of people want us wiped of the face of the earth and for our nation to fail. we have been at war for many years against these types of people. who would risk putting a man in the most powerful position with any ties or back ground linked to these types of people.

    August 20, 2010 at 12:34 am |
    • Lola

      Background is one word. You shuold have worked harder in school, hardworkingamerican.

      August 20, 2010 at 4:13 am |
  5. SoCalScience

    Hmmm... he was born to an atheist mother, is Columbia/Harvard educated, and is intensely pragmatic... Could it be *shock* that in whatever religion Obama claims, he's just NOT VERY RELIGIOUS. There are both 'Christians' and 'Muslims' out there that profess to be of whatever faith, but live in very secular ways. From everything I've seen about the guy, religion simply isn't first priority to him. That doesn't strike me as a bad thing at all. It makes him a good politician. I'm just wondering what scares the Moral Majority people more, the thought of having a Muslim president or an agnostic president? Fortunately, we've already had one of the latter, and the world hasn't stopped spinning (sorry to everyone who would claim Thomas Jefferson was a Christian just because he used the word 'creator').

    August 20, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  6. John

    Obama is not a Muslim. If he actually believes any of the mythology in the Koran, Bible, or whatever other crap, I will give you ten dollars. And I am only ten years old so thats my life savings. He just belives poeple should be good probably. You are all morans. I cant belive that I am enterring a world run by the likes of you! Obama should just say, look I am a Muslim and so what you fools (even though he is not). Have some integrity, ya know? – like show his tolerance, put his money where is mouth is. He is such a disappiontment in that regard. But still better than that idiot before him that probably couldnt get into honors classes at my elementary school.

    August 20, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  7. kbb

    i bet that 99% of that polling are white!

    August 20, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  8. Jesus

    I bet Obama is not religious at all. Neither was Bush. They just say things to get votes from poor pople like most of you. Only poor people care about religion. Rich poeple are smart and ont care about such things. I know what you are thinking – I am relatively wealthy and I care! Whatever, where I come from my friends and neighbors can buy your house and burn it down just to entertain our pets, who have better clothes than your ugly wives. Morons.

    August 20, 2010 at 12:09 am |
  9. News_Wire

    Those crazy teabaggers will believe anything.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
  10. Kirsten

    I really don't care if Obama is a Christian or a Muslim, it's his belief plus there is not a written law that says that to be the President of the Untied States you have to be Christian.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  11. Don Canard

    more crackheaded Americans from the culture that brought you the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, with biennial repeats from the Great State of Kansas to this very day. And of course, some of our most popular literature has to do with space aliens making my baby. Culture, folks. We'll make great pets.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
  12. Andrew

    Just proves again that Americans are one of the dumbest people on this earth

    August 19, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  13. Hugo

    Obama may walk like a duck and quack like a duck but he's not a duck. He may say he's Christian but he's not. If he were Christian he should act like Christian. He doesn't have the moral values that Crhistians have.

    August 19, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  14. Summer

    Really!? We're having this discussion in year 2010?!?!..So what if he's a Muslim??!! Who care?! This is kind of talk is racism at its best..The only problem with Obama is that he's too smart and too fast of a change for the bigots in this country, unfortunately. Let's pure our attention on the more important and significant issues that are taking place nationally and internationally. GROW UP PEOPLE OR GROW SOME BRAIN..

    August 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm |
    • BC-Texas

      This whole thing is absurd! We need to wake up and realize, This country has been in Trouble for quite a while and because of the division that is going on today, WE will never be healed as a Country! so don't think that if this President is defeated we as a Country will beneifit. You are already living under the wrath of the past Administration that YOU oppositions are trying to put back into Power! Wow, Pure Ignorant, poor, unemployed citizen!!

      August 19, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  15. Jeffrey Rhodes

    OK People This IS Okay As Long as he says under God We Trust And Don't Declare himself To Be GOd

    August 19, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
  16. Michael, Chapel Hill

    Obama is not sincere to what he talks.
    1. He attended a Black church for 15 years taught black liberation theology...it seems he did not know about .it
    2. Obama told Jermiah White is his friend for long time and distanced away from him when pointed out about his theology.
    3. Before election he told that he is Christian
    4. He opened White House for Hindu and Muslim prayer.
    5. He abstained from National Day of prayer.
    6. He told in Egypt that he is a Muslim.
    7. When he felt the heat from Mosque controversy, Obama's spokes person made a statement that Obama is committed
    Christian, while he went vacationing.
    WHAT IS HE? WHO IS HE? I do not care about his religion; but I would appreciate him telling the TRUTH.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:53 pm |
    • truth matterz

      The church he attended was a widely acclaimed Christian church that many of the countries leaders make a point to attend when they are in Chicago. He opened the white house to the hindu and muslim prayer just like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did. He did not abstain from National Prayer day, he just didn't do what the Republicon TV station and conservative talk radio thought he should do (guess what, he doesn't take his orders from over paid lounge acts).
      He did not say he was a muslim when he gave the speech in Egypt. (dont believe everything people tell you, cause then they laugh at you and call you useful idiots behind your back).
      Everything the President says in Public is taped, so please provide the link where he has ever said he was of the Muslim Faith. Thank you

      August 24, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  17. Kookie

    Who cares?

    August 19, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
  18. 21k

    if only he were a good law-abiding atheist, there wouldn't be a story here.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  19. Pickleson

    Honestly... Obama should not have been elected president! He's not doing our country any good. He promised change and all he's given us is turmoil. He won't even prove to his nation that he is a US citizen! Come on people. we used to be a strong nation with grounded morals. This country was morally based off of God and his way. Look at how far we've gone down the wrong path. Nobody cares anymore. And that's sad. Families are broken. Marijuana becoming legal? what is happening to our country! I hope Jesus is coming soon cuz we need him! I hope and pray you are saved and will be taken out of here when he comes too!

    August 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
    • D

      And what you and so many others choose to ignore...this country was in turmoil before Bush left office, half of us knew what was coming in terms of the economy and the wars, (remember the stunner when they lost congress) and when we voiced our concerns we were met with the typical Republican response of 'shut up we know whats best for you' and things were pushed through regardless. I knew we would be in Iraq, and I knew the economy would melt under Bush, I sold out everything I owned moved to a plot of land to raise my own food, and clear my debt. I still lost my job, and health care has been non-existence for 5 years. And sadly, those people around me that were so 'pro Bush' and telling me I was an idiot, they are all in the same boat, except they have nothing to fall back on. The problem is not Obama. The problem is one group of people refuses to do anything to try and salvage what we can. You know it's bad when Drs. tell you to go to Canada for treatment, and the banks flat out tell you that you are wasting your time even trying to take out a loan. We are on the verge of collapse, and political pandering is downright treasonous at this point.

      August 20, 2010 at 3:44 am |
  20. Sav


    August 19, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
    • Kirsten

      I look a this comment and think "Who the hell let this thing out of it's cage?". Because honestly, you are extremely ignorant, in fact, I can barely comprehend someone being as ignorant as you. It's fools like you who make me hate religion, and I'm a Christian. Fools like you hide behind God and use your religion to hurt people. You use it as an excuse to judge people, to condemn people, to make people feel inferior to you. You're a pathetic excuse for a human being and you shouldn't be called a Christian.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:57 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.