WASHINGTON - The White House insisted yesterday that President Barack Obama is a Christian who prays daily as it looked to tamp down growing doubts among Americans about the president's religion.
White House spokesman Bill Burton made the remarks hours after a poll showed that nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, said they think Obama is Muslim. That was up from 11 percent who said so in March 2009. The survey also showed that just 34 percent said Obama is Christian, down from 48 percent who said so last year. The largest share, 43 percent, said they don't know his religion.
As Obama headed for vacation, Burton told reporters on Air Force One most Americans care more about the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and "they are not reading a lot of news about what religion the president is." He added, "The president is obviously a Christian. He prays every day."
The survey, conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center and its affiliated Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, is based on interviews conducted before the controversy over whether Muslims should be permitted to construct a mosque near the World Trade Center site. Obama has said he believes Muslims have the right to build.
In a separate poll by Time magazine/ABT SRBI conducted Monday and Tuesday, after Obama's mosque comments, 24 percent said they think he is Muslim, 47 percent said they think he is Christian and 24 percent didn't know or didn't respond.The Pew poll found that about three in 10 of Obama's fiercest political rivals, Republicans and conservatives, say he is a Muslim. That is up significantly from last year and far higher than the share of Democrats and liberals who say so. But even among his supporters, the number saying he is a Christian has fallen since 2009, with just 43 percent of blacks and 46 percent of Democrats saying he is Christian.
Among independents, 18 percent say Obama is Muslim - up from 10 percent last year.
Pew analysts attribute the findings to attacks by his opponents and Obama's limited attendance at religious services, particularly in contrast with Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, whose worship was more public.
Andrew Kohut, the Pew Research Center's director, said the confusion partly reflects "the intensification of negative views about Obama among his critics."
The poll, overseen by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, involved landline and cell phone interviews with 3,003 randomly chosen adults. It was conducted July 21-Aug. 5 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.