Religion in Society

Poll: Most Known Nothing About Islam, Yet Still Oppose it

| by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, TN -- Most Americans continue to know little about Islam, and people in the United States remain somewhat divided in their views of the religion, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.

The poll found that favorable opinions of Islam have declined since 2005, and a slight majority of Americans do not want to see a mosque built near the World Trade Center site in New York. Pew said 51 percent of respondents objected to the mosque and 34 percent supported it.

Meanwhile, 62 percent said they believe Muslims should have the same rights as other religious groups to build places of worship, and 25 percent said local communities should be able to block mosques if they don't want them.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said they either don't know much about Islam or know nothing at all, and just 9 percent said they know a great deal. Pew found that 41 percent said they actually know someone who is Muslim. Knowledge of Islam and acquaintance with Muslims rose if respondents were college graduates or were younger.

Among the 1,003 adults Pew polled in August, 30 percent said they have a favorable view of Islam while 38 percent said they have an unfavorable view and 32 percent offered no opinion. By contrast, in 2005 41 percent expressed a favorable view and 36 percent were unfavorable toward Islam.

With regard to politics, 54 percent of Republican respondents expressed an unfavorable view of Islam and 21 percent were favorable. Independents were more unfavorable than favorable, 40 percent to 28 percent, and 41 percent of Democrats were favorable while 27 percent were unfavorable, Pew said.

Respondents who were younger than age 50 had mixed views of Islam, and 44 percent of those older than 50 expressed unfavorable opinions of the religion.

Pew found that opinions about whether Islam is more likely than other religions to promote violence have fluctuated since 2002, when 51 percent said Islam does not encourage violence more than other religions. The August poll found that 42 percent said Islam does not necessarily promote violence compared to other religions, while 35 percent said it does encourage violence.

No particular political or demographic group in the study overwhelmingly said Islam encourages more violence than other religions. More Republicans, by a slight 47 percent to 38 percent margin, said Islam is more likely to encourage violence, Pew said. Democrats, by a two-to-one margin, said Islam is not more likely to encourage violence.

"If anything, there are even starker partisan and age differences over the proposed construction of an Islamic center and mosque a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center," Pew said.

Seventy-four percent of Republicans in the poll said they agree with those who oppose the mosque, and half of independents also agreed with opponents. Among Democrats, 47 percent support the center, and 39 percent agreed with its opponents. Those older than 50 agreed with mosque opponents by wide margins, Pew found.