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. simpee

    Who cares what religion President Obama is. There are too many hypocrites in this country.

    August 27, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  2. jellylee2020

    That proves it.....one in five American is an idiot.

    August 26, 2010 at 7:45 pm |
  3. Justin Case

    I believe is is more like the devil

    August 26, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  4. Casual Observer

    Just returned from a conference of CEO's and other "C" executives and their casual observations and comments regarding Obama were shocking and perhaps an accurate barometer of what the business world is really thinking.
    Well over 50% doubted that Obama is a Christian and about 40 % believe he could have ties to Islam given his background.
    Over 80% believe that he is a socialist and anti-business and that many of his actions to date are treasonous.
    His lack of action securing the Mexican border speaks for itself
    They seem to think that Obama and his appointees are trying to implement "change" by ignoring the Constitution and Congress – and most importantly the will of the majority of the taxpayers.
    Obama's administration and its policies are a cancer that is killing the US.

    August 25, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Gene

      CEO's are on the same level as lawyers. So using them as some sort of moral barometer is just plain asinine.

      September 19, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
    • locke1632

      You've got to be kdding me! The inmates are indeed running amok in this country. I'd have expected senior managers to be informed, educated, and open minded. I guess the disease is worse than I thought.... I better be careful, I'm a senior manager. Maybe it's contagious

      October 29, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  5. Diana

    It so idiotic what the right wing believe. It is easier to believe he is a Muslim, it is easier to be believe that he is not a true US citizen. No other president has faced this much scrutiny in the first two years of his presidency. I really believe there is a host of reasons why they choose to believe something so ridiculous than the truth. One is the crazy economy. In times of Crisis, people look for someone to blame. Two, he is black. I hate when people say that one is playing the race card but I highly doubt that this would be occuring with a white president. Thrid, listening to conservative radio that spill nothing but hate and lies such as fox, Limbaugh. If you based factual information on theses outlet, you will always be part of the problem and not the solution.

    August 25, 2010 at 7:20 am |
    • locke1632

      pssst! I heard that the reason Sarah Palin can see Russia from her home is that she's actually a native Russian. Pass it on....
      Oh, and the tea party is just a Russian plot to take over this country through the political process. Since, they couldn't do it during the cold war. Pass it on...

      October 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  6. Al

    Lunacy at its best.

    August 24, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
  7. valwayne

    I personally think that Obama is a Christian of the Rev Wirght variety, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that he is a secret Muslim. It would explain a lot of very strange things he's done like bowing to the Saudi King, or siding with Extreme Islam on this ground zero Mosque issue, against the American people. But we have religious freedom in the country so who cares? Why is the White House acting like being a Moslem is like having the plague?

    August 24, 2010 at 11:11 pm |
  8. truth matterz

    1 out of every 5 Americans are unable to locate the United States on a world map.

    August 24, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  9. truth matterz

    Of course 1 in 5 people believe Obama is of the Muslim faith. The right wing media is blaring that nonsense 24/7 and many never come out of that echo chamber to hear any different. Of course 1 in 5 Americans believe in Alien abductions too.

    In response to John Galt who claims he 'dont' know many Christian Suicide Bombers, I would say read some history, (distant and recent), there is no shortage of Christians who have been willing and eager to blow others up (and have done so, right here on American soil as well as all over the world)

    August 24, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
  10. Phillip Bias

    Obama said it himself while in egypt AND I QUOTE " mY MUSLIM FAITH" SO HE SAID HE IS MUSLIM (cASE CLOSED)

    August 24, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
    • truth matterz

      Just because you make up a quote or repeat a false one that you heard somebody else claim doesn't make it any less a lie.
      Everything the President says in public is taped, so feel free to provide the link to prove it.
      I can see why you would want the case closed. You have no evidence of your falsehoods.

      August 24, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
  11. John Galt

    Absolutely true. Obama has a Muslim name and was born to a Muslim father and the Muslim religion passes down from the father. So in the Muslim world the President is believed to be Muslim. How come no one is commenting on this or questions the overwhelming number of the worlds Muslims who believe teh President is one of their own?

    August 24, 2010 at 11:16 am |
    • truth matterz

      So Christians don't really have any belief system? They just claim to be Christians because religion is passed from parent to child and they never seek out any answers for themselves? They claim they believe in Christ because their parents did? Religion is more of a foolish cult than I thought.

      August 24, 2010 at 10:00 pm |
  12. John Galt

    People are so quick to judge. EVERY American is entitled to their opinion and it does not make them stupid or ignorant to assume that the President is not honest in his beliefs. History abounds with liars who have professed one belief and practiced another and yes, President Obama seems to support foregners including Arab/Muslim people over Americans regularly so who knows?

    August 24, 2010 at 11:03 am |
  13. sodafountain

    Remember that 1 in 5 Americans are in the lowest 20th percent for IQ. I would safely place my wager that these are the folks who believe Obama is Muslim.

    August 23, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
    • John Galt

      And I would wager that you are a petty, lazy, opiniionated boob. However an opinion mine or yours does not necessarily make it so.

      August 24, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  14. Spencer J. and Pamela T. Atkinson, PFTLD

    As for President Obama being a Christian or Muslim: My name is Spencer J. Atkinson, and I am the incarnate soul of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ with proof. I declare, if anyone believes that Christ died for his or her sins or died at all is no servant of God and they are deceived by a misrepresentation of Christ's true mission, which is the assurance of eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, many Christians are confused like President Obama, by the sacrificial lamb theory of Christ, which also confuses many Muslims, who are already confused to a great degree by their own tradition. With confusion for the most part in Christianity and Islam, would make President Obama very confused about God, being connected to both Christianity and Islam. The evil of this world is the author of confusion. That's why clarity and proof of God's existence is here, with Spencer J. Atkinson and the true residents of Heaven on Earth, to replace the confusion caused by the divided house of so many religious beliefs. The true Heavenites on Earth are those who hear, see, understand and accept the proof that God is giving, through Spencer J. Atkinson and Pamela T. Atkinson, the same Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene-The Christ.

    August 23, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  15. pt

    Why does it matter what religious faith President Obama is or isn't? Does that make him a better leader? I think we are all on our own spiritual journey no matter whether we are part of a religious group or not, and I don't think we should belabor the fact.

    August 23, 2010 at 12:42 am |
  16. Pov Mak

    We must rise to noble challenge as members of human family,not as a Buddhist, a Jew, a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim. We need to examine the questions from the perspective of a globle ethics that is grounded in the recongnition of fundamenta...l human values that transcent religion and science. NO matter the President Barack Obama as a Buddhist, a Jew, a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim.
    Mr.Barack Obama a members of human family,He is the President United States of America. He's believe in GOD and he's do everything for all Americans. May GOD bless the United States of America!!!

    August 22, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  17. Erik in Iowa City

    I can't believe this is reported as news. Someone, tell me, where can I get actual news? Even the BBC has become nonsense.

    August 22, 2010 at 4:44 am |
  18. Poppa G

    This issue is simple for the President to put to rest:
    Produce a baptismal certificate, or at least indicate when, where, and by whom he was baptized a Christian.

    August 22, 2010 at 2:12 am |
  19. Unknown

    I can't believe people still think he is a Muslim after the Rev. Wright, hello, Rev is a Christian leader. Also, he was celebrating Easter, no Muslim would ever do that. Finally so what? Since when does America no long be the pluralistic it claims to be?

    August 21, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
  20. James Moulton

    Many of the 1/5th undoubtedly know that Obama claims to be a Christian, but just don't believe him. But he shouldn't take it too personally. It is not just him; we don't trust many politicians and know LOTS of other people who claim to be Christians, too, but show no outward signs of it in their daily lives.

    August 21, 2010 at 5:12 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.