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. DallasTex

    He has stated that he is a Christian. Why should anyone believe otherwise? Who cares anyway? Too bad he's not an atheist. Organized religion is just an excuse to oppress non-believers anyway.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:35 am |
    • Joseph Burello

      While I am in total agreement with your post, what really makes me excited is that your username invokes the most backward state of Texas. Maybe there is a "God" 😉

      August 19, 2010 at 3:43 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      people do care whether Obama is lying or not. After seeing the lies of the last President, Americans are very sensitive about electing another liar to the Office.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:08 am |
  2. rwla

    Judge not, lest ye be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

    August 19, 2010 at 3:32 am |
  3. Ryan

    Why does it matter what he believes in? Isn't the presidents job to lead? These American fundamentalist should take a ride to the Middle East and meet their other fundamentalist brethren and STAY THERE AND HAVE A BLAST!

    August 19, 2010 at 3:31 am |
  4. John

    Food for thought: before Obama was elected he told a reporter that this family did not celebrate his daughter's birthdays. My co-worker who is a Shiite Moslem confirmed that according to Sharia Law only the birthdays of males are celebrated. Given his family background I can understand there may be some family customs that may seem strange to us.The problem with Obama;s "religion" is that his public and private personas seem to contradict each other, not what he is. I do not like being lied to.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:30 am |
  5. Peter DeSilvey

    Wow really why would anyone think that Barack Hussein Obama is Muslim. Change your name dumb A** if you don't want people to think your a Muslim

    August 19, 2010 at 3:29 am |
    • frag

      Sammy Davis Junior was a Jew, should he have changed his name? Why, to please bigots like you?

      August 19, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • Pat

      Just like Eddie Murphy needs to change his name to let everyone know he's not Irish.

      August 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  6. oneStarman - Walla Walla, WA

    1 IN FIVE AMERICANS think Denial is a River in Egypt. I am amazed at the American capacity for Ignorance. It is truly remarkable that a people with relatively easy access to all the Information in the world can be so easily distracted by the demagoguery of Right Wing 'Rodeo Clowns'. It is SAD really to see these poor dumb puppets dancing as their strings are pulled.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:28 am |
  7. Young Sinatra

    People that STILL believe the President is not a Christian need to stop going to tea party rallies and inbreeding.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:23 am |
  8. Pete

    Who cares? Most christians are hypocrites so its probably a good thing anyways, regardless, even if he is a christian, that is between him and god, not him and man.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:19 am |
  9. Garrido

    Hmmm I wonder just how Christian the people who say Obama isn't are. I mean go back a century and I am sure those Christians would be like you people are heretics and sinners beyond redemption. I don't think anyone really is truly what a Christian is in mans definition. People today seem to worry about nonsense because it eases their minds and allows them to be idle of their own lives. If that other percentage were truly Christian or religious then I doubt the calamities that exist now in America would continue to exist.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:17 am |
  10. roger

    i think the world is like that today : when they do good calls , people die , when they do bad calls people die much more.
    this is for every country . politician kill a lot of people. they send fathers , mothers to death every day , anybody here knows any politician ho lost their houses? or they job? or even he is in financial troubles ? . they knew the storm was coming , and they didn't nothing for stop.
    they do not deserve our trust and our vote.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:16 am |
  11. Patrick A

    Who the hell cares whether the guy is a Christian or whatever,All RELIGION are filthy,they prey and steal from the poor,Most rich and educated people are not religious,I wonder why?

    August 19, 2010 at 3:15 am |
  12. Tom P

    Just goes to show you what dumba**es most 'mericans are.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:14 am |
  13. mark4obama

    the US Consititution....freedom from and freedom of....nothing more needs to be said...as soon as we demand that a certian religion governs our country then be prepared to accept that premise when that relegion is not your own...like say, Mormon or Islam or the worship of sacred sea slugs....you will have to accept it and remain patriotic...you cant have both ways.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:13 am |
  14. Mickey

    So what? 1 of 4 Americans cant find America on the world map. 1 of 5 don't know US capital. 1 of 3 cant name countries bordering US. Religious extremism, drugs, alcohol, porn and celebrities nonsense like leprosy have consumed many minds. knowledge , fairness , common sense hard to find. Media loves us to be idiots and feed us cheap garbage info and news and entertainment.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:12 am |
  15. Robert

    The reason an increasing number of people say he is not a Christian is because his actions do not seem to be those of a Christian. He has made fun of the Bible on several occasions, is pro-abortion (a Chrisian can't be in favor of murdering babies), against other Christian values, defends the Muslim religion more than he defends Christainity, ect. And of course if you throw in him sittin under "Rev Wright" for 20 years one can easily see why more and more people are saying he is not a Christian. The American people are seeing past the spin and seeing who he really is.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:11 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      yes, you are right. compared to Born-Again Christian Bush, Obama certainly does come across as not very christian! No gun waving, undermining of international peace-keeping institutions, he really is very very unchristian like, i agree.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:06 am |
    • Jen

      I agree. Actions speak louder than words, and his actions have certainly given room for us to doubt what he actually believes. Cancelling the Day of Prayer events at the White House while hosting formal dinners with Muslims does tend to make one have some questions. And yes, it IS important. Whether he is a practicing "go to church every week" Christian is not as important as whether he can be trusted to handle the current political climate. This is a nation founded on Christian principles which is currently involved in a war against radical Muslims. Therefore having someone who sympathizes with Muslims in this case may not be in our best interest. That is even more true if he has lied about his own faith for some reason. Especially given his time spent growing up in Muslim nations, it just seems that he may have some explaining to do. I don't personally think that he has lied- I think he's just private about his faith, as he has the right to be. However, it does lead to questions, which he should answer by his actions. Pick a church, and go. It doesn't have to be a weekly thing, but he should be seen attending to his faith if he is a Christian.

      August 19, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  16. sharon

    And 43% say they don't know his religion. Shouldn't THAT be the headline? Or is CNN trying to gin up more anti Muslim sentiment with the misleading headline on the piece? Not journalism.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:07 am |
  17. roger

    i don't like the mosque idea , But the constitution say they can . so i think the president supports the constitution first , if he in he's position say anything different , he ill going against the vote to defend the constitution .this is very clear if you use your head first.
    i think , he thinks with the head , different the previous administration when they think with the heart , and did stupid calls.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:07 am |
  18. JP

    first it's he's a socialist, next it's he's not an american by birth, now he's not a christian but really a muslim, what's next? that's he's not really a human being?????

    August 19, 2010 at 3:03 am |
    • jamsam

      if is not human being, he "s ghost

      August 19, 2010 at 7:51 am |
    • frag

      9 tenths of Americans wouldn't be able to define Socialism if they had to. Our educational system is a total failure. if you don't believe me just read the comments on this page. Most of these people still believe that America is the greatest place on earth, but 99 percent of them have never lived anywhere else. It's like a man telling a woman what it's like to have a baby. You guys have become like little impatient kids waiting for your happy meal, "I want it all and I want it now". Guess what, while you were sucking up Budweiser and saving money for your Hummer, the rest of the world caught up, and some of them passed you by. Bruised ego? Look in the mirror for solutions, not to politicians.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  19. SJtR

    0tard isn't even a muslim, he is a marxist atheist who sympathizes with muslims.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:00 am |
    • frag

      aw, are we still having a problem with losing the election, boo hoo hoo. Take the sucker out of your mouth.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:09 am |
  20. SickOfVeiledRacism

    If any of our previous (white) Presidents were in this situation, do you think this would even be a polling question – 'do you think Obama is a Christian?' It wouldn't make a difference if said white President had the same basic life story as Obama, growing up with time spent in other countries. No one would care. Granted some might think he was too mommy-Democrat, but they would not immediately jump to the Muslim conclusion.

    What's really sad is that it seems to pre-suppose that 1. being a Muslim is worth talking about and 2. being Muslim is inherently negative.

    August 19, 2010 at 2:54 am |
    • Jim

      I think there are three issues here - 1) there's no public view of anything related to Christianity in his White House
      2) he's worked hard his entire presidency to cater/pander to muslims
      3) many simply don't believe him and never believed his assertions of christianity during the campaign (it struck to hard at being political convenient) and his previous 'church' involvement (Jeremiah Wright) was far more political/racial politics than it was about religion.

      It really doesn't matter what religion he is (or none) - just that he's honest about it.

      August 19, 2010 at 5:30 am |
    • Frogist

      SickOf: I would add this to your list. Being black also means being muslim and vice versa...
      Jim: To say that he is being dishonest about his religion is pre-supposing that he is not christian even though he said he is and was part of a christian church before entering the white house. How logical is that? Accusing a man of dishonesty with no evidence except your own bias...

      August 19, 2010 at 9:53 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.