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. SanePerson

    The only thing I pray for is a day when belief in fairy tales isn't a prerequisite for public office. Wake up people, we have real problems here on earth.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:28 am |
  2. Siddharta Gautama

    I thought he was Buddhist! I want my vote back!

    August 20, 2010 at 3:57 am |
  3. NocPavor

    wow... 1 in 5 Americans are stupid, explains alot

    August 20, 2010 at 3:53 am |
  4. Epidi

    What difference, or, bisuness is it of anyone's what religion he is as long as there is seperation of church & state? He, nor anyone in public office, should NOT be basing thier decisions on the running and/or the daily bisuness of our government! That's what leads to situations like Iran, and many religious state run countries! Our forefathers came to this country to escape religious persecution and yet it still goes on in this very country today. I'm Pagan, and if our prez was Pagan, I still would not want that president to base his/her decisions for running our govt on religious beliefs. We have enough radical fanatics in the general populace – we DON'T need them in offices of public service!

    August 20, 2010 at 3:31 am |
  5. DL

    This is insanity. This is precisely why the left and right do NOT get along in this country. The right still screams 'Muslim'...and 'he's a socialist going to take away your freedoms'. This is America, he has the right to be a Muslim, Christian, Satanist whatever he wants. If most of you knew anything about the bible, you would read about Mollech and Baal......then pull up 'camp Bohemia' online and look where your politicians sit. Conservatives in this country are being misled...and if you think the Republican party follows God, you seriously need to stop and take a look at the big picture. Democrats have issues to, but as a whole, it's the lesser of the 2 evils. There is nothing wrong with being a conservative, I am. Which is why I can never support the GOP in it's present state. Unfortunately, most people are educated by Fox sound bites, and the end result is going to be the death of this country.

    August 20, 2010 at 3:25 am |
  6. peace2all

    Quite honestly, I hope that he is an agnostic, or an atheist.

    His job is to help run our country...... His religious beliefs or lack thereof have nothing to do with making our country run more efficiently and effectively.

    Just look at ol' W.. George Bush that is..... he was a mess. The country wasn't any better under his watch and he was definitely a card carrying fundamental christian. Couldn't even string a sentence together half the time.


    August 20, 2010 at 3:07 am |
  7. Mike

    "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."
    Kinda makes the 15th amendment and the Dred Scott case look like a complete waste of time, doesn't it?

    August 20, 2010 at 2:58 am |
  8. Lori

    Well that Da m smoker outlawed my cigarettes so I’m totally feeling disgruntle. The one thing I enjoyed after the kids were in bed and that joker took it from me! I just liked to have one and I would sleep so much better now I have complained to a bunch of people online to get out my frustrations.

    August 20, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  9. Michael

    Even if Obama says he’s a Christian why should we believe him? He said he has never practiced Islam ever but now we know that while living in Indonesia when he was a child he practiced Islam and even studied it in school. Also for a president who campaigned on a platform of a more “open government” and “transparent administration” why won’t he unseal his medical records, his school records, or his passport records. He will not release his Harvard records, his Columbia College records, or his Occidental College records—he will not even release his Columbia College thesis. It is estimated that Obama’s legal team has now spent well over $1.4 million dollars blocking access to documents every American should have access to. The question Americans need to be asking is why would he spend so much money to do this? What is he hiding?

    August 20, 2010 at 2:33 am |
  10. Julie

    I honestly would rather have a president with NO religious affiliations. Let's get religion OUT of our STATE GOVERNMENT, the way it SHOULD BE.

    August 20, 2010 at 2:32 am |
  11. Lori

    When will the love affair with the communist news network (CNN) and Obama end? Our soldiers die everyday so that Muslims can be free, is this not enough? Now we must also bow down and submit to fear in our own country, are our leaders only going along with building a mosque out of fear of retaliation from the radical Muslims? When will these news networks start reporting on loses that Americans have suffered for these countries? We are not an evil nation and we should not be ashamed. Our solders have done wonderful things for these Muslim nations. Stop apologizing Obama we are good to your Muslim brothers and sisters!

    August 20, 2010 at 2:30 am |
  12. yourmom

    he's a christian my god jeez dumb americans and their islamophobia, give it a rest people

    August 20, 2010 at 2:23 am |
  13. Lori

    Who cares? I Do! After 9-11 Now we have a Muslim sympathizer in office, I didn’t vote for him and shame on the Americans that only listen to what the communist news network tells them to think!

    August 20, 2010 at 2:11 am |
  14. jinn

    Obama has been committing taqiyya every day he has been President.

    August 20, 2010 at 1:54 am |
  15. Robert

    Seems to many seeing videos with Obama speaking and preaching the Koran and you wonder why people question his religion. Seems people question where he was born when he and his own sister can't tell where he was born and then his own grandmother said she seen him born but she lives in Kenya. Not hard to buy a birth notice in a paper. See these questions people raise could be validated. Mind you the birth notice and newspaper is not a valid id for any State license or Passport or even a Social Security Card.

    I can care less what religion he is or where he is born. Just tired of hearing his empty political promises period and agendas forcing me to pay for his healthcare bill that congress and the rest of the US Government is exempt from.

    August 20, 2010 at 1:41 am |
  16. g

    obama is a muslim period

    August 20, 2010 at 1:22 am |
  17. Greg

    That's not bad considering 2 out of every 5 Americans are complete idiots.

    August 20, 2010 at 1:21 am |
  18. g

    Obama is a muslim

    August 20, 2010 at 1:19 am |
  19. mindcrime

    Wow, 1 in 5 Americans is outright ignorant? I'm shocked.

    Studies like this just go to show how pathetic this country has become, and how miserable our futures will truly be.

    August 20, 2010 at 1:18 am |
  20. RigidPrinciples

    Typical liberal Kenyan fear mongering.

    August 20, 2010 at 1:18 am |
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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.