Poll: More Americans think Islam violent

Percentage with negative opinion of religion doubles in 20 months
Sep 13, 2003 03:01 PM EDT

Over the past 20 months, the percentage of Americans who believe the religion of Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims has doubled, according to an ABC News poll.

Less than half of Americans now call Islam peaceful and one in three believe it encourages violence against non-Muslims, the survey said.

ABC said a poll taken four months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, showed 14 percent believed mainstream Islam encourages violence. Today it's 34 percent.

The survey also showed a sharp rise in people who think Islam does not teach respect for the beliefs of non-Muslims – 22 percent in the previous poll compared to 43 percent today.

The poll showed virtually no change, however, in familiarity with Islam. Nearly two-thirds of Americans feel they don't have a "good basic understanding" of the religion.

ABC said people who feel they do understand Islam are much more likely to view it positively. Of those people, 59 percent call it peaceful and 46 percent think it teaches respect for the beliefs of others.

The two-thirds who say they basically are unfamiliar with Islam are 19 points less likely to call it peaceful and half as apt to say it respects other beliefs, the poll showed, according to ABC.

Between a fifth and a quarter of Americans said they have no opinion on whether the religion teaches respect for others or is peaceful.

The poll also showed a 14 percent rise since January 2002 in Americans who view Islam unfavorably, to 38 percent. Thirty-nine percent have a generally favorable opinion of the religion.

ABC said the poll showed younger and better-educated people are more apt to have favorable views of Islam.

In the biggest division, 58 percent of people who profess no religion regard Islam favorably, compared with only 18 percent of white evangelical Protestants.

The poll also indicated Republicans and Protestants are more apt to think Islam does not teach respect for other religions than Democrats, Catholics and people of other faiths, or no faith.

The ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 4-7 among a random national sample of 1,004 adults with a three-point error margin.