WASHINGTON – Public attitudes about Muslims and Islam have grown more negative in the United States in recent years, according to a poll released Tuesday.
The Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that four in ten Americans (43 percent) who were recently surveyed said they have a favorable opinion of Muslims, while 35 percent expressed a negative view. In 2004, opinion about Muslims was somewhat more positive with 48 percent having a favorable opinion while 32 percent held an unfavorable one.
“There continue to be substantial age, education, political and religious differences in opinions about both Muslims and Muslim Americans,” noted researchers in the summary of the survey’s findings, which also included views on Mormonism and Pope Benedict XVI.
As was the case with polls in the past, the latest found young people, college graduates, and liberal Democrats more likely to express favorable views of Muslims than were older people, those with less education, Republicans, and conservative and moderate Democrats.
Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants stood out for their negative views of Muslims. While roughly half of white mainline Protestants (51 percent) and white Catholics (48 percent) express favorable views of Muslims, only about quarter of white evangelicals (24 percent) say the same, the poll found. Similar religious divisions are seen in views of Muslim Americans.
According to the survey, Muslim Americans are still seen more positively than Muslims in general (53 percent vs. 43 percent) as in previous surveys. Unfavorable opinions of Muslim Americans, however, have also edged upward, from 25 percent in 2005 to the current 29 percent.
Meanwhile, the belief that Islam encourages violence has increased among groups that express mostly negative views of Muslims, such as conservative Republicans, but also among those groups that have relatively favorable opinions of Muslims, such as college graduates.
The proportion of college graduates saying Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence saw a significant increase – from 28 percent in 2005 to 45 percent today. Furthermore, college graduates are now about as likely as those with no college experience (44 percent) to express this point of view.
When asked what single word best describes their impression of Islam, far more Americans mentioned negative words than positive ones (30 percent vs. 15 percent); roughly a quarter (23 percent) characterize the religion with neutral words; about a third (32 percent) do not offer an opinion.
The single most common word used to describe the Muslim religion is "devout," or a variant of this word, such as "devotion" or "devoted," the survey found, with 43 respondents use one of these words to describe their impression of Islam. Nearly as many (40 respondents in all) say that words like "fanatic" or "fanatical" come to mind when thinking about Islam. Other words commonly used to describe impressions of Islam include "different" (35 total responses), "peace" or "peaceful" (34 responses), "confused" or "confusing" (31 responses), "radical" (30 responses), "strict" (26 responses) and "terror" or "terrorism" (25 responses).
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Aug. 1-18 among 3,002 adults, had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.