A 2018 survey by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), a Washington, D.C. think tank, charts the attitudes and policy preferences of Americans concerning Muslims and Islam, and introduces the first Islamophobia Index, a scale that measures anti-Muslim prejudice in America[1].

2,481 mostly-randomized interviews were conducted across a range of religious groups (including non-affiliated individuals) via phone calls. Some Muslim respondents, who were drawn from a non-probability panel, were interviewed via the internet (more details on methodology can be found here)[2].

Politics

American Muslims are just as likely as the general population to report satisfaction with the direction of the country. This satisfaction is 27% for 2018, down from 41% in 2013, and 63% in 2016. Muslims are the least likely among all faith groups and the non-affiliated to approve of Donald Trump’s performance in office[3].

75% of surveyed Muslims reported being registered to vote, an increase of 7% from last year, which itself was 8% higher than the figure for 2016[4].

Muslim Civil Rights

The majority of Americans across faith and non-faith groups support Muslim civil rights. 86% of Americans say they “want to live in a country where no one is targeted for their religious identity”. The Jewish community is the religious community with the highest support for this statement (95%), while white Evangelicals have the lowest support (78%)[5].

The majority of Americans (66%) agree that “the negative things politicians say regarding Muslims is harmful to our country”, with 78% of Muslim and non-affiliated Muslims agreeing with this. White Evangelicals were the only group lacking majority agreement with this statement (45%)[6].

79% of Americans oppose the banning of the building of mosques. Non-affiliated Americans are the group with largest support for this statement (88%), while white Evangelicals have the lowest support for this statement (67%). Most Americans oppose the surveillance of U.S. mosques. Again, non-affiliated Americans are the group that expresses the highest amount of support for this statement (77%), and white Evangelicals express the lowest amount of support (45%), the only group lacking a majority agreement to this statement[7].

Most Americans reject collective blame of Muslims for the acts of individuals; 69% believe Muslims are no more responsible for the violence carried out by a Muslim than anyone else. Majorities in all faith groups, ranging from 76% in the non-affiliated group to 64% of Protestants, agree with this[8].

55% of Americans say that most Muslims in the United States are committed to the well-being of America. 81% of Muslims agree with this, making them the group who expresses the most support for this statement, while white Evangelicals express the least support for it (36%) and are the only group lacking a majority who agree[9].

The Islamophobic Index

The Islamophobic Index (II), which was developed in collaboration with Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, measures the level of anti-Muslim sentiment in America through an additive scale ranging from 0-100, with 0 as the lowest level of prejudice and 100 as the highest. It measures the endorsement of anti-Muslim stereotypes (e.g. that Muslims are violent or misogynistic), perceptions of Muslim aggression toward the United States, the degree of Muslim dehumanization, and perceptions of Muslim collective blame. These are all factors which have been shown “to predict public support for discriminatory policies toward Muslims”[10].

ISPU surveyed and scored Americans across a spectrum of religious affiliations. The non-affiliated expressed the lowest levels of Islamophobia, scoring 14. Muslims were next, scoring 17. White Evangelicals scored 40, and expressed some of the highest levels of Islamophobia[11].

Those in the public with more negative views of Muslims (roughly 15%, a minority) as measured by the Islamophobia Index are more likely to approve of discriminatory policies targeting Muslims, agree to limiting democratic freedoms when the country is under threat (including limiting freedom of the press), and condone military and individual attacks on civilians[12].

The Impact of Islamophobia

Islamophobia’s impact includes Muslims reporting both discrimination and internalized shame.

61% of Muslims report experiencing some frequency of religious discrimination in the past year, a higher proportion than any other faith group (or the non-affiliated groups); 48% of Jews, 29% of white Evangelicals, and less than 25% of all other groups reported these experiences[13].

Among Muslims, those who are women (69%), Arabs (73%), and people between the ages of 18-29 (66%) are the most likely to say they experienced religious discrimination[14].

For Muslim women (and men), Islam is a source of pride and happiness, but prejudice in the form of racism and Islamophobia threaten them. Though roughly half of women of all backgrounds, including Muslim women, report experiencing some frequency of gender-based discrimination in the past year, Muslim women’s more frequent complaints are racial (75%) and religious (69%) discrimination[15].

68% of Muslim women agree that most people associate negative stereotypes with their faith identity. 52% of these women “strongly agree” that being Muslim correlates with negative stereotypes[16].

Most Muslim women (72%) and Muslim men (76%) reject the notion that “most Muslims in America discriminate against women”[17].

The top reasons for wearing the hijab all the time among those who report doing so are, piety or to please God (54%), to be identified as Muslim (21%), and modesty (12%). 1% said it was because a family member or spouse required it of them[18].

Despite many feeling stigmatized, 87% of Muslim women say they are proud to be identified as a member of their faith community, and most Muslim women (87%) and Muslim men (84%) say that they “see their faith identity as a source of happiness in their life”[19].

Violence

Muslims are the most likely faith community to “strongly agree” (44%) with the statement, “When I hear that a member of my faith community committed an act of violence, I feel personally ashamed”. 34% of Jews, 34% of Catholics, 35% of Protestants, and 33% of white Evangelicals agreed with this[20].

30% of Muslims agree with the statement, “I believe my faith community is more prone to negative behaviour than other faith communities”, making them more likely than any other faith community studied (13% or less) to agree with this statement[21].

Muslims mirror false public perception regarding Muslims and violence. 18% of Muslims agree with the sentiment that Muslims are “more prone to violence than other people”, more than the general public (13%) or non-affiliated Americans (8%)[22]. They are as likely as Jews (15%), Catholics (12%), Protestants overall (13%), and white Evangelicals (23%) to hold this view about themselves. ISPU notes that this finding warrants deeper discussion to determine whether “Muslims are simply as impacted by media portrayals of their community as are others, or … [whether] they are “admitting” some measurable reality”[23].

Muslims are more likely than the general public to reject violence against civilians by the military (71% of Muslims compared with 42% of the general public), and as likely to reject violence carried out by an individual or small group (80% of Muslims compared with 74% of the general public)[24].

ISPU cites Pew’s 2017 survey of Muslim Americans, which found that, “Although both Muslim Americans and the U.S. public as a whole overwhelmingly reject violence against civilians, Muslims are more likely to say such actions can never be justified. Three-quarters of U.S. Muslims (76%) say this, compared with 59% of the general public. Similar shares of Muslims (12%) and all U.S. adults (14%) say targeting and killing civilians can ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ be justified”[25].

Terrorism and the Impact of the Media

Most American terrorist fatalities are at the hands of white supremacists, as was found by a 2017 survey, which also found that law enforcement agencies ranked anti-government extremists as a greater threat than Al-Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations.

This raises questions of how to explain Muslim assessments of their own community being prone to violence as no different than those of other Americans and sometimes even higher. ISPU suggests that the media might have something to do with this as, “Since there are several million American Muslims, the probability that a member of the community actually knows someone personally involved in violence is next to zero. Instead, like everyone else, American Muslims are getting their perception of Muslims and violence from the media, not personal experience”[26].

ISPU reports that the U.S. media portrays Muslims as more prone to violence than other people, as according to their report, Equal Treatment?: Measuring the Legal and Media Response to Ideologically Motivated Violence in the United States, someone perceived to be Muslim accused of a terror plot will receive 7.5 times the media coverage as someone not perceived to be Muslim. Similar trends have been found by other reports.[27]

[1] ISPU, 2018, 1.

[2] Beutel, 2018.

[3] ISPU, 2018, 3; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 1.

[4] ISPU, 2018, 3; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 1.

[5] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 1.

[6] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 1.

[7] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 1.

[8] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 2.

[9] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 2.

[10] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 2; Beutel, 2018.

[11] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 2.

[12] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 3.

[13] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 3-4.

[14] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 4.

[15] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 6.

[16] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 6.

[17] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 6.

[18][18] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 6.

[19] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 6.

[20] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 4.

[21] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 4.

[22] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 4.

[23] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 4.

[24] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 4.

[25] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 4-5.

[26] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 5.

[27] Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2017, 5-6.

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Sources

Beutel, A. (2018) ‘American Muslim political engagement is growing and strong majorities of Americans back Muslim civil rights’. [online] 1 May. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2018/05/01/latest-poll-highlights-state-anti-muslim-hate-america-and-its-links-authoritarianism. [Accessed 6 May 2018].

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. (2017) American Muslim Poll 2018: Pride and Prejudice: Key Findings. (PDF) [Accessed 6 May 2018]. Access here: https://www.ispu.org/american-muslim-poll-2018-key-findings/.

ISPU. (2018) American Muslim Poll 2018: Pride and Prejudice: Featuring the First-Ever National American Islamophobia Index. (PDF) [Accessed 6 May 2018]. Access here: https://www.ispu.org/american-muslim-poll-2018-full-report/.