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April 25, 2019
International Opinions

What Americans Really Think and Feel About Muslims and Islam/ Part 1

Public opinion surveys reveal that, in general, Americans continue to express mixed views of both Muslims and Islam. Though on some measures, opinions about Muslims and Islam have become less negative in recent years, they are distinctly unfavorable. Moreover, Americans view Islam more unfavorably than they view Muslims.

  1. Americans’ Feelings toward Muslims

In January 2017 survey, Pew Research Center asked respondents to rate Muslims on a “feeling thermometer” ranging from 0 to 100, where 0 degrees indicates the most negative feelings and 100 degrees indicates the most positive feelings. On average, American respondents gave Muslims a rating of 48 degrees, the lowest among all religious groups in America, and gave Jews and Catholics the highest ratings of 67 and 66 respectively. Comparing 2017 to 2014 ratings, in 2017, Muslims rating increased by 8 degrees while Jews and Catholics’ ratings increased by 4 degrees; however, Muslims continued to be rated more negatively than other religious groups while Jews and Catholics continued to be among the groups that received the warmest or highest ratings.

Table (1)

American Respondents’ Emotional Ratings of Muslims, Catholics, and Jews

Americans rated Muslims least favorably compared to Catholics and Jews

  Muslims Rating Catholics Rating Jews Rating
2017 Pew Poll 48 66 67
2017 Voter Poll 48 71 74

Interestingly, Americans gave Muslims the same rating of 48 degrees in the Voter Study Group’s 2017 Voter Survey, also the lowest among other ethnic and religious groups. Meanwhile, the ratings of Christians and Jews were the highest, 71 and 74 respectively.

  1. Americans view Islam more unfavorably than they view Muslims

In a public opinion poll by Shibley Telhami in 2015, respondents had a more favorable than unfavorable view of Muslims (53% favorable and 46% unfavorable). In contrast, they had a more negative view of Islam; respondents had a more unfavorable view of the Muslim religion (37% favorable and 61% unfavorable).

 

Table (2)

Americans view Islam more unfavorably than they view Muslims (Telhami, 2015)

  Favorable view Unfavorable view
Muslims 53% 46%
Islam 37% 61%

This may have many reasons, and one of them is that “it is probably easier for many Americans—with strong anti-discrimination norms—to express dislike of an abstract idea rather than to appear prejudiced toward people,” Telhami said.

“The contrasting American attitudes on Islam and Muslims have been around for some time, though views of Islam, in particular, worsened in the months after 9/11. They never recovered, even during the early days of the Arab uprisings, which generated much sympathy among Americans,” Telhami added.

Three weeks after 9/11, an ABC News poll found that Americans had a more favorable view of Islam (47%) than unfavorable (39%).

Table (3)

ABC News, Telhami, & YouGov Polls on View of Islam

  Favorable view of Islam Unfavorable View of Islam No Opinion
 

12/2015 (YouGov)

 

17%

 

58%

 
 

2015 (Telhami)

 

37%

 

61%

 
 

04/2011 (Telhami)

 

33%

 

61%

 
 

09/07/2003 (ABC)

 

39%

 

38%

 

23%

 

10/15/2002 (ABC)

 

42%

 

33%

 

26%

 

01/06/2002 (ABC)

 

41%

 

24%

 

35%

 

10/09/2001 (ABC)

 

47%

 

39%

 

13%

In 2003, Americans divided evenly in their overall appraisal of Islam: 39% had a generally favorable opinion of Islam, 38% generally unfavorable (and again a substantial 23 percent had no opinion.) That’s a 14-point rise in unfavorable views from their low point in January 2002.

And the picture then changed dramatically. A poll conducted by Telhami in April 2011, showed that 61% of Americans expressed unfavorable views of Islam, while only 33% expressed favorable views. “This was in the middle of expressed optimism about the Arab uprisings, when 70 percent of Americans, for example, expressed favorable views of Egyptians. At the time, Americans still seemed to differentiate between Islam and Muslims, with half saying they have positive views of Muslims,” Telhami said.

In YouGov poll (December 2015), aftermath of San Bernadino terrorist attack, 58% of Americans viewed Islam unfavorably and only 17% viewed it favorably.

And In 2009 survey by Gallup, nearly one-third of respondents (31%) say their opinion of Islam is “not favorable at all” versus 9% who said their opinion is “very favorable.” This stands in contrast to Americans’ views of Christianity and Judaism, which were far more likely to be “very favorable” (66% and 25% respectively) than “not favorable at all,” (4% and 15% respectively) while Buddhism draws almost equally positive and negative opinions at the extremes.

Table (4)

Percentage of American Respondents Saying their opinion of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism is “not favorable at all” versus “very favorable”

  %age of saying it is Not Favorable at all %age of saying it is Very Favorable
Islam 31% 9%
Christianity 4% 66%
Judaism 15% 25%

 This survey was conducted by Gallup Oct. 31 and Nov. 13, 2009, spanning the Fort Hood shooting in which a U.S.-born Muslim military doctor killed 13 people on the Army base on Nov. 5.

Conclusion. In two independent recent public opinion surveys in 2017 by Pew Research Center and the Voter Study Group, American respondents gave Muslims a negative rating of 48 degrees, the lowest among all religious groups in America. This stands in contrast to Americans’ views of Christians and Jews. American respondents, in a poll by Shibley Telhami in 2015, viewed Islam more unfavorably than they viewed Muslims; an attitude that has been around for some time. Views of Islam worsened in the months after 9/11 and never recovered but rather got dramatically worse this decade.

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