WASHINGTON - Americans increasingly are convinced - incorrectly - that President Obama is a Muslim, and a growing number are thoroughly confused about his religion.
Nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, said they think Obama is Muslim, up from the 11 percent who said so in March 2009, according to a poll released yesterday. The proportion who correctly say he is a Christian is down to just 34 percent.
The largest share of people, 43 percent, said they don't know his religion, an increase from the 34 percent who said that in early 2009.
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 an Islamic center there, though he's also said he won't take a position on whether they should actually build it.
In a separate poll by Time magazine/ABT SRBI conducted Monday and yesterday - after Obama's comments about the mosque - 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.
Obama is the Christian son of a Kenyan Muslim father and a Kansas mother. From age 6 to 10, Obama lived in predominantly Muslim Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather. His full name, Barack Hussein Obama, sounds Muslim to many.
The survey also found:
_ The Democratic Party is seen as friendly to religion by 26 percent, while 43 percent say the same about the GOP. That's a 9 percentage point drop for Republicans since 2008, and 12 points lower for Democrats.
_ Fifty-two percent say churches should stay away from politics, a reversal of the slim majorities that supported churches' political involvement from 1996 to 2006.