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. Bill in Florida

    I am tired of all the "Christians" who deny that Barack Obama is a Christian. It's not my place to say whether he is or isn't a Christian and it's not their place either. The only one who can truly read Barack Obama's heart is God. Why do these people want to usurp God? That is what they are doing, by denying that Barack Obama is a Christian when he has stated plainly to everyone that he is a Christian. Honestly, as a believer in Jesus Christ, I am growing weary of people who say they are Christian and act like followers of Satan. Jesus said "Love one another as I loved you." He did not tell us to go around and deny that people are Christian when they plainly state that they are and then spread hateful lies about them all over the Internet. If you say that you are a Christian, act like one.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:33 am |
  2. Whatdoyouexpect

    My Chinese made monitor is failing after only a year use.......figures
    Ya get what ya pay for..........Like TV, If people walked away from unreality shows........Take the profit out of them, business would hire writers again and we wouldn't be subjected to Kate, Snooki, Paris and the other ilk....
    What does this have to do with so many people not knowing the President is Christian.......Could the term "disinformation" or 'heads up their -" and finally "don't care enough to find out" come to mind.....

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

    I know that these boards are overwhelmingly commented on by Christian children. And I know that they know what being a long standing member of The Church of Christ means. I think that every Christian child on this board that has been saying that President Obama is a Muslim should think very seriously about who is creating the words coming out of their mouth.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:29 am |
  4. Oakton Tommy

    I am not a fan of the president but do think he was born in the U.S. and holds his office legitimately. However, I think his family background and policies and attitude suggest that his claimed Christianity might only be political expediency and that his true religion may be Islam. Taken together, his embrace of the Muslim world, his anti-Israel policies, and that whacky NASA policy of spending billions to show that we respect the Muslim contributions to science make you wonder. Is he Kevin Costner from "No Way Out," just Muslim instead of Russian?

    August 19, 2010 at 5:27 am |
  5. Jimo

    I believe that he is an atheist.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:24 am |
  6. The Real Faisal

    Great, there is an idiot here who decided to hijack my name and rant about nothing. Lets get back to what really matters, the economy that is still in the tank.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:21 am |
    • stillskeptical

      @The Real Faisal

      How can you prove who you are? And why would you want to? Why would we care? Its just a screen name.
      Substance over form is what makes a post worth reading. Form helps, of course, but who wants to read a post that says nothing?
      If you are really mad about it, then ask cnn for their secret records on who was doing what in this blog. I was not the one using Faisal as a screen name. You have my sympathy, but you are not the only person in the world named Faisal, if that's your real name.
      Write a letter to cnn. Maybe they'll listen instead of helping to shove humanity down the toilet. Murdoch has some admirers in the media industry and not because he gives 'em money, either...
      Good luck.

      August 19, 2010 at 5:45 am |
  7. john

    Obama has not joined a church since becoming president, has not really talked a lot about his faith and the only church he ever belonged to was the black racialist church of rev jeremiah wright. His name is a common arabic name, found throughout the muslim world and his father and african relatives are muslims. He was registered as a muslim in school in Indonesia as a child. American voters should know better but the fact is that Obama is probably not an active Christian and certainly is not an active muslim but has family ties to both. Suspecting that he is muslim is no different than suspecting that a politician with a Spanish or Irish surname is Catholic. They may or may not be, but its just a guess for a lot of people who don't follow this stuff carefully. Fact is Obama does not speak about his religion and does not attend church.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:19 am |
  8. sophie

    I bet the people who still belief Obama is Muslim are of the same lot that believes he was born in Kenya. They are sore losers who will do anything to discredit his presidency. I the last 10 years I have meet so many people my age who came from Christian families but turned their backs on religion altogether. Why? Because they could not make the connection between God is love and the bigoted and intolerant beliefs of their parents. They went of to college and realized that gays were just regular people and that there are other religions in the world.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:16 am |
  9. mark

    now they didn't ask me but that doesn't matter . because if you believe in any religion . your nuts any way . and the president of the united states ought to be able to go where he wants . after all we are semi free after cheney and bush . thats right we know who took our freedom away

    August 19, 2010 at 5:14 am |
  10. E

    I believe the satanic president is Muslim.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:14 am |
    • mark

      your right and im happy he's there doing the gods work for you

      August 19, 2010 at 5:16 am |
    • Pat

      How can he be satanic and Muslim? Muslims worship Allah, satanists worship satan.
      You're an idiot.

      August 19, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  11. bobo

    And did these morals come out of thin air?

    August 19, 2010 at 5:06 am |
  12. James

    Obama claims to be a Christian, he isn’t. A Christian is someone who follows the ways of Jesus Christ and tries to live the way that he lived. Christian now days, is a blanket term for many religions. Mormons, Catholics, (that’s right I said it) and Jehovah Witness Christian like but not Christian. Obama is the same way; he has deceived you, this great nation, but mostly himself. I knew he wasn’t true Christian simply listening to what he says and his policies. His liberal ways will bring this county down and it will take God’s grace to recover. And I’m not just singling him out because conservatives are just as guilty too. A Christian would not lead a county to war with a lie and have thousands of service men and women die on account of that lie. There still no weapons of mass destruction found. Me I called myself a Christian too. But with the things I have done if I died today, heaven I would not see, but least I’m not fooling myself.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:05 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      When did bearing false witness become a Christian value? Careful casting stones.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:38 am |
    • Lance Cole

      By your definition of "Christian" I'd say there are a lot fewer true Christians than people think. I'll give one example: How much did Jesus involve himself in the politics of his time? Name one political leader he criticized or condemned. I'm pretty sure he saved his criticism for so-called religious leaders who used their authority and privileged positions to lead people AWAY from God.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:45 am |
    • Frogist

      ummm James the whole wmd thing... that was Bush... how bout more fact checking and less proselytizing.

      August 19, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  13. shatteredmen

    There is a vast difference between saying you are a Christian and being one. Jesus said that is is by our fruit that others will know we are a Christian and I do not see any fruit that says Obama is of The VINE (Jesus Christ) Obama has said that when it comes down to it, he will side with the Muslims although tens of thousands of Christians chose not to forsake Christ and died instead. Many Muslims face death today for becoming a Christian since the Koran calls for the death of infidels (Jews and Christians) Christ on the other hand told us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us.

    Obama has observed several Muslims holidays in the White House but he has refused to recognize the National Day of Prayer nor has he attended any Christian church since he has been POTUS. Is there any wonder why many think he is a Muslim? After all, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck……..

    Again, most of those who claim to be Christians do not have a clue as to what Christians really are. If you have not placed your trust in Christ and Christ alone for full payment for your sin, you are NOT a Christian. Oh you may believe in a man named Jesus, but that does not make you Christian.


    August 19, 2010 at 5:05 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      See International Peace Maker George Bush for an example of a true christian.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:13 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      If you bear false witness you are denying God's Commandment. This brings into question your ability to accept Christ as your savior. It has no bearing on Obama. Return to Jesus. He is not your "Get out of Hell free card." Christ's path is a hard one, so if something seems easy it is likely that you are on the wrong path.

      August 19, 2010 at 6:38 am |
  14. Jack

    His wife is Christian, and that's good enough for me.
    Every married man knows the wife is the boss.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:03 am |
    • Kyle

      @Jack Dude u r whipped. Turn in your balls.

      August 19, 2010 at 5:18 am |
  15. Steve

    Well, maybe he is a Muslim. He carries himself like a Imam. He supports a mosque so close to ground zero (remember Muslims like to build mosques next to military and religious victory). He has neem very unsupportive of Israel. He refuses to recognize Islamic terrorism in the United States (Fort Hood shooter, Christmas Airline bomber, Time Square attempted bombing). So, no wonder people are doubting his religion.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:03 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      his troops are continuing to terr orize the poor Afghanis and Iraqis. oh yeah, he is a muslim imam alright!

      August 19, 2010 at 6:11 am |
    • civiloutside

      He supported the right of Muslims to construct a mosque on privately owned land. In other words, he upheld the law of the land as his job description requires. He very pointedly did not comment on whether they *should* build it, only that the government does not have the right to forbid them to.

      August 19, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  16. rcfcabo

    What does it matter what his religion is, no I did not vote for the man nor do I really like some of the things he has done or doing in regards to our country but his religion is truly none of our business, president or not, get a life people help come up with things to change Washington both parties are failing the people and the country

    August 19, 2010 at 5:03 am |
  17. bobo

    Oh to hear all you bash your liberal CNN is such sweat music.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:02 am |
    • frag

      About nine of the last ten days, the lead article from CNN was either about Sarah Pinhead or Ben Quack, and you think CNN is LIBERAL! Watch MSNBC for liberal news, not CNN.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  18. bobo

    Congressman J Forbes said it so well..."When our constitution was signed, the signers made sure that they punctuated the end of it by saying, “in the year of our lord, 1787”, and 100 years later in the supreme court case of Holy Trinity
    Church vs. United States, the Supreme Court indicated, after recounting the long history of faith in
    this country, that we were a Christian nation."

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

      I would like to listen to your last brasacdot on the morning of the 8th Monday November 2010. The last track you featured was by Fourplay's Fortune Teller. Fantastic. I just could not find you on the list of playbacks or play the last brasacdot again. I figured someone filled in for you.Many thanks.Charles Thomas.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • Alicia

      The United States doesn't shun religion, as you say. We have a seopiatran of church and state as well as Freedom of Religion (in the first amendment), in case you forgot. Just because our government doesn't have the right to do things in the name of God and because ALL religions, as long as they do not harm others, are accepted, doesn't mean that the US shuns religion.And the presidential nominee doesn't really pick his own VP, the decision is made by the party in order to reach the most voters.As for Obama's nomination being a guarantee for McCain, I hope you're wrong. I don't want another President Bush and McCain wants to not only continue the war in Iraq but expand it to Iran!!! Enough white rich men in office, let's have some real changes.Just because someone doesn't have as much experience, doesn't mean they won't be a good president. Look at JFK one of our youngest presidents and one of the most beloved! I can't wait to vote for Obama, no matter who he runs with.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  19. sean

    Why does it even matter?

    August 19, 2010 at 4:54 am |
  20. Ficheye

    Satan here. I noticed that all of you folks think the human, Obama, is a muslim. I've got a lot of 'em down here and they fry just like the other sinners – without the virgins, I might add – but he's no muslim. He eats pork! I've seen it myself. But you mortals are really tuned in to this one because you need someone to blame and he's the 'it' man of the moment. You have no one to blame but yourself, and your parents, and their parents... you get the picture. Hey... I'm comin' and I like ham... and pineapple.

    August 19, 2010 at 4:54 am |
    • Arisman

      Hello Christian Bragg I'm alway's enjoying Jazz FM vibes every day. Can you pselae let me know who the artist and musical track of the first song too the advert too Mike's fusion flavour's show which has a great bass line that dances all over the floor .My five musical track list : Michael Jackson-Music And Me, Cool Million- Sweet Baby, Donny Osmond Breeze On By, Paul Hardcastle-Desire, Tenille- Winner. Thank you.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
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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.