The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A startling number of Americans still believe President Obama is a Muslim

President Obama delivers a statement on the urgent humanitarian situation following his meeting with local elected officials and faith leaders on July 8, 2014 in Dallas. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
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Even though President Obama nods to his Christian faith regularly in both serious and light-hearted settings, a large number of Americans still believe he is a Muslim. According to a new CNN/ORC poll, 29 percent of Americans say they think that Obama is a Muslim, including 43 percent of Republicans.

Sixty-one percent of Democrats say Obama is a Protestant, compared with 28 percent of Republicans and 32 percent of independents. Also, according to CNN, 54 percent of those who support Donald Trump say they believe Obama is a Muslim.

Education comes into play: 63 percent of college graduates believe Obama is a Protestant compared with just 28 percent of those who do not have college degrees.

Among all adults, 39 percent say they believe Obama is a Protestant or another kind of Christian, another 11 percent say he’s not religious, and 14 percent that they just don’t know. Of those who took the survey, 4 percent believe he is Catholic, 2 percent think he is Mormon, 1 percent believe he is Jewish, and 1 percent think he is something else.

The number of Americans who believe Obama is a Muslim appears to have jumped since polls from earlier years of his presidency.

CNN’s poll question was similar to PRRI/RNS surveys in 2012 and 2011, finding 16 percent and 18 percent saying Obama was a Muslim, respectively. A 2010 national survey by the Pew Research Center found that 18 percent of Americans said Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009. At that time, 43 percent said they do not know what Obama’s religion is.

[Hillary Clinton showed up for church today. Will faith help or hurt her on the campaign?]

The number of Americans who believe Obama is a Muslim is startling, in part because he talks of his faith so often and in such detail. He does not formally attend one specific church, though he often appears at different churches in Washington D.C. on holidays like Christmas and Easter.

In March, Obama folded faith into his jokes at the Gridiron Club dinner for journalists and politicians. Wisconsin’s Republican governor Scott Walker has said in the past he does not know whether Obama is a Christian. The president brought up Walker’s comments in his speech.

“The other week he said he didn’t know whether or not I was a Christian. And I was taken aback,” Obama said of Walker. “But fortunately my faith teaches us forgiveness. So, Governor Walker, as-salamu alaykum.”

As-salamu alaykum is an Arabic greeting meaning “peace be upon you,” and is regularly exchanged during Muslim sermons.

But Obama also speaks frequently about his faith on more serious occasions.

In June, he eulogized the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims in a church shooting in Charleston, S.C., closing his remarks by leading mourners in a powerful chorus of “Amazing Grace.”

“According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned,” he said. “Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”

“Even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of Jesus’s sacrifice, on Easter we can’t lose sight of the fact that the story didn’t end on Friday,” he said at the White House Easter prayer breakfast this year. “The story keeps on going. On Sunday comes the glorious Resurrection of our Savior.”

And at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year, Obama said he has sought God’s guidance “not just in my own life but in the life of our nation.”

“If we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose,” Obama said. “We can never fathom his amazing grace. We see through a glass darkly, grappling with the expanse of his awesome love. But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required: to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God.”

A total of 1,012 adults were interviewed by phone for the CNN/ORC poll, conducted from Sept. 4 through Sept. 8.

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