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. timmaw

    All religions are obviously a fake stupid waste of time that have done more harm to this world than good .... and anyone .... ANYONE ... who is religious is stupider than me .... and i just wrote 'stupider' instead of 'more stupid' .... how you like dem apples?

    the sooner everyone in this country finally grows a brain and realizes this basic fact the better off we will all be ....

    p.s. don't try arguing with me because i don't listen to stupid people ...

    August 19, 2010 at 4:51 am |
    • Ficheye

      "...is just as stupid as I am" is probably the way to gol

      August 19, 2010 at 4:56 am |
    • walrus


      Hi dimbulb.
      I could barely see your post. You don't have the style of the person you are emulating and it shows. You are a parrot with an empty head repeating and twisting what others say. You suck.

      August 19, 2010 at 5:03 am |
  2. michael

    it appears 2/3's of the nation are idiots. get a grip

    August 19, 2010 at 4:49 am |
  3. Heather

    Is the purpose of this poll to make the point that very many Americans are not knowledgeable enough to make informed voter decisions? Is the white house hoping the American public will forget that Obama's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is a black liberation theologist from The Church of Christ? Or are they unaware that black liberation theology is christian theology? I personally am tired of Americans being portrayed as uneducated rubes and believe that these polls are taken on people chosen for their likelihood of failing.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:46 am |
  4. Braszman

    Unbelievable. Obama is President. He was elected by the majority. He was born in this country. His politics are on the moderate side of liberal and he goes to Church (as if that even friggin matters!!!) So why don't you friggin' "Birther, Islamophobic, "not so closet" racists go buy a little Island somewhere and form your own country. We real Americans can continue to live in the land where duly elected President continues to govern responsibly despite the political gamesmanship, obstruction and flat out lies trotted out by the opposition.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:43 am |
  5. NS

    I hope he is agnostic or atheistic just like his parents.. which would do a lot of good to the world..

    August 19, 2010 at 4:38 am |
  6. chris

    Why should he have to start showing what he does to be a Christian? Aren't church and state separate?

    August 19, 2010 at 4:23 am |
    • walrus


      shh! We don't want anyone questioning where their loyalty lies or they might actually start living what they preach!

      August 19, 2010 at 4:33 am |
  7. Roelof

    Should Europe worry?

    August 19, 2010 at 4:16 am |
    • Mary4nn


      August 19, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  8. R. Wagner

    He's not a muslim.He's not a christian.HE's a politician. Thay worship power , money , control over you. NOT GOD!

    August 19, 2010 at 4:15 am |
  9. rdg1

    He has mocked the bible on many occasions. He is for abortion when the bible states that GOD knew us in the womb. He is promoting homosexuality and the bible states that homosexuality is an abomination. This guy is no Christian.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:06 am |




    August 19, 2010 at 4:05 am |
    • rik


      August 19, 2010 at 9:16 am |
    • Seriously y'all, get a grip

      Wait, so, his commitment to his faith is NOT between him and God, it's supposed to be between him and everyone else?

      How can he be Muslim and yet still be involved with Rev. Wright's church, which was a "big scandal" before this?

      I think people want to think he's Muslim, because it's the way they synthesize their bigotry and justify not having to think for themselves because they are incapable of it. It's much easier to make him Muslim than to admit that they don't like him based on his mixed-race heritage or, even better, have to logically explain why they don't like his policies. Saying "I'm a Republican and so I don't like the President" isn't a valid reason, no more than people saying "I'm a Democrat and I don't like Bush."

      Christians and Jews really don't need someone to stick up for them–they aren't being widely persecuted and demonized in this country. Muslims, Pagans, and other minority religions ARE. And the President isn't a good President unless he sticks up for EVERYONE, not just the people who elected him or who hated him, and not just the people who want a homogenous (that means the same, not gay in case you don't know) America. Doesn't mean he has to agree with it, doesn't mean that he is part of that religion, it just means that the freedom of religion covers ALL religions whose practices are legal (that doesn't include pot smoking, drug using, child brides, polygamy, child molestation, domestic abuse, or murder, of which almost every religion has been guilty of at some point or another).

      I just wish people would think. Although, if this is them thinking, maybe they should just watch more reality tv and become too dumb to vote.

      August 19, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  11. atlantaguy

    Its unbelievable how many people on here are commenting how stupid all americans are how awful our country is and how hard they push their anti god views how about we poll how many cnn people are athiest non americans and see whos really pushing all the hate on here

    August 19, 2010 at 4:03 am |
  12. jimmy

    whether someone is a christian or not is completely up to them. If someone says they are, then they are–no one has a right to say otherwise. At the same time, who cares.....if he says he's a Buddhist it's fine with me.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:02 am |
  13. Bonesaw

    you idiots who vote for people based on religion are far, far more dangerous for this country, of course many of the politicians have lied because it is really the only choice they have to get elected (i'm not saying Obama did, but he may have and many did). A person's religion should NEVER have anything to do with a decision that he makes as president. Religion should never get in the way of making the decision on what is best for this country. All of you idiots that just vote for someone because he is the same religion as you are the root of the problem.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:02 am |
  14. HJC

    What do you expect from a country whose citizens, on the whole, don't read newspapers and couldn't find their own rear ends with both hands.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:59 am |
    • goatse


      I'm sendin' a big, wide smile your way!

      August 19, 2010 at 6:26 am |
  15. manhandler

    Just goes to show how utterly stupid and uninformed a good portion of the American public is. It's why they're so susceptable to all the crap the extreme right churns out. Americans like to blame the politicians for everything that's wrong, but the real culprit is their own astonishing ignorance.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:58 am |
  16. TOM

    Honestly if you poll people under 35, you will see that most of us don't really care, all we care about is our freedoms, our forward progress as a country, education, and making money. The older generation are the ones stuck on this outdated religious obsession. Just like we dont want the GOP because all they preach are things like "if you are a woman, be ditzy, uninformed about the simplest of topics, and know your place" and tell the men "Its 1960 lets all act like snobby little kids when speaking (FOX NEWS)"

    August 19, 2010 at 3:58 am |
    • Mehgann


      August 19, 2010 at 7:01 am |
  17. RAD

    Obama himself said in an interview that he was a muslim. When he was speaking over in the middle east he said that his father and family were muslim. He said his step-father was muslim. He said the sweetest sound to him was the muslim call to prayer. He said he went to the mosque with his step-dad. He also said in one of his books that he wrote that he "came to Christ" on his own terms. When you put all of that together I think you can believe that he is a MUSLIM! And he is also a lair.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:50 am |
    • meso

      what kind of lair is he? The Thundercat's lair, or is he more like Mumm-ra's lair. Hypocritical idiots are everywhere :p

      August 19, 2010 at 5:45 am |
  18. Joseph Burello

    Religion? Who cares? The only way to be a successful leader of any free nation is to not be religious. Why is it taking us so long to figure out what every single one of our founding fathers took to be as truth?

    August 19, 2010 at 3:39 am |
  19. Brett

    History will show Barack Obama to have actually been a president too good for the present-day United States, too intelligent, too idealistic, too forward-looking, too progressive, too articulate, too good for a country dumbed down for the better part of half a generation by the presidency of George W Bush, his wars, his ineptitude, his divisiveness, his vast ignorance, and a style of governance that spawned a pervasive toxicity of politics and journalism from which we may not recover. This is what the polls show me. This is what the average forum contribution here at CNN proves.

    August 19, 2010 at 3:37 am |
  20. Ryan

    “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion”

    ~George Washington

    Hey conservatives, respect your founding father's wishes!
    Or you just going to pick and choose?

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

      What? Pick and choose? The "Christians"? Oh wait...........their entire religion is based on that.

      August 19, 2010 at 3:41 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.