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. StevenFrank

    I am Black man 45 years of age, post graduate and I have never been polled in my life. Who are you polling for this and other issues concerning our President. Is it a white only conservative/republican poll? If President Obama was/is a Muslim, what difference would it make, he's our President now!! Religion is not a requirement to be President. He's a man of age, "Education" BUSH, and a citizen of this country. Let it go people.

    September 7, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
    • Gene

      I've never been polled. No one in my family have ever been polled. I can't even say I know anyone who have participated in a political survey. People that i talk to are of the opinion that these yahoos pull numbers out of their rear just to manipulate the news and agitate the weak-minded.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  2. kidubb

    Someone above wrote that the building of the mosque was a slap in the face to all those who lost someone in the 9/11 attacks. This person justifies this statement by writing that although it was terrorists who were responsible for the events of that day, we must not forget that those terrorists were radical muslims. Good point. However, if America is to move forward we must heal and to do so is to be tolerant in the face of terror. We must continue to stand on the very foundation that America was built upon. Let's not forget that it was radical Christians (KKK) who are responsible for the murders of thousands of African Americans in the South. Should we not have built Christian buildings in southern states. The victims were Americans yet we didn't see it as a slap in their faces. Please think about where this country has come from and what we have gone through to get to where we are today before you comment. Because it sounds like it's okay to be terrorists as long as the terrorists themselves are Americans. Yes, I consider the KKK to be terrorists.

    September 6, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  3. Keith

    If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and bows to a duck.....

    September 6, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  4. Betty

    I cannot believe that CNN is covering this issue and not the rash of violent attacks going on around the country against places of worship. The Tennessee Mosque Burnings: Christian Extremism versus the "Gospel of Niceness": http://tohellwithbetty.blogspot.com/2010/09/tennessee-mosque-burnings-christian.html

    September 6, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  5. ratkartz

    It's easy to understand. Somewhere around 95% of the guys in the world whose middle name is Hussein also happen to be Muslim.

    September 5, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  6. rhumba

    Has CNN done a poll to see how many Americans believe the polls? Personally, I think that at least 50% of Americans lie when they're polled. At least I hope that's true. Otherwise, there's a whole lot of stupid in America.

    September 5, 2010 at 12:41 am |
  7. colum 1948

    show how sick the U S A is ,that ye would put up here as a story.Just as well China is now top dog in the world ,hope they donot make misstake as the U S A .

    September 3, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  8. austinypc

    The main reason that some people believes Obama could be a muslim is his constant changes of names.from Barry Sorento, Barry Obama, Barrack Obama and finally to Barrak Hussein Obama which sounds like a muslim name.

    September 2, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
  9. LIberals Suck

    I agree, he is muslim

    September 2, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  10. John

    I'm a Catholic. Frankly, I don't give a crap if this President is a Muslim, a Jew, a Protestant, an Evangelical, etc. I care about where this country is headed and whether he is or will be a leader. I feel sorry for all you hate mongers out there. It just shows how little you really care about this country. Hateful, manipulative, and clueless. Now, send your resume out with those credentials.

    September 1, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  11. cento

    I now have less faith in mankind's intellectual capacity considering that 1 out of 5 Americans believe the President Obama is a secret Muslim. Lets hope Steven Hawkins is wrong, and that we don't encounter alien life any time soon, or else we are all screwed.

    September 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  12. Patricia A Lewis

    If he is a Muslim and made it all the way to the Oval Office, he is really good. If he is not an American Citizen and made it to the Oval Office, he is fantastic. If he is an angry Black man and made it all the way to the Oval Office, well you know.

    September 1, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  13. VetTeacher

    We could have ask his grandmother before she died but what the heck, she said he was Kenyan so what does she know?

    September 1, 2010 at 7:43 am |
  14. I was wondering

    I was wondering what percentage of Americans are f-ing brain dead. Now I know.

    August 31, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
  15. Jay(Leave religion out of politics)

    Who cares what he is? Religion is man made and controlled by man. It is a creation of man and used by man to influence other men. Nobody has every met or seen a god. That would explain why there are thousand of religions. Anybody that is religious is a fool and a product of another mans thoughts. People need to start believing in themselves and thinking for themselves for once.

    August 31, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  16. Northstar

    My only prayer is that if I am ever wrongly accused of a crime, none of you Sherlocks who think that Obama is a Muslim don't serve on the jury. You have about as much real evidence to back your opinion as I have that George Bush is a space alien and that Dick Cheney is really a communist incognito. But I almost forgot, who needs evidence or real facts when you have Beck or Limbaugh to tell you what to think.

    August 31, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  17. Beth

    I guess this means that one in five people have a brain less than the size of a pea.

    August 30, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  18. David Evan

    Even if the Lord Jesus personally descended from heaven to sit with the President in front of the whole country this 20 percent would not believe in the authenticity of his Christianity.

    August 29, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  19. ArmtsLonewolf

    Oh yes he is Muslim. And he wasn't born in the USA...

    August 29, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
    • Gene

      And what are you going to do about it?

      September 19, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  20. Forrest Smith

    It's no wonder that 18% believe he is muslim, they are probably reading the Enquirer while standing in line at the grocery store.

    August 29, 2010 at 11:21 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.