The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) has released the “American Muslim Poll 2019”, its forth annual poll in which different religious groups, and those that consider themselves non-affiliated, are surveyed in order to compare attitudes. These religious groups are Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants and white Evangelicals.  ISPU places the Poll in the context of record breaking voter turnout and the election of a diverse new class in the 2018 midterm elections, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the travel ban, and the longest ever government shutdown.

ISPU have, created in partnership with Georgetown University’s “The Bridge Initiative”, used an “Islamophobia Index (II), in which it has selected five negative stereotypes that have been linked with a greater acceptances for anti-Muslim policies. It then measures the level of public endorsement of these negative stereotypes, to provide a evidence-based way to predict Islamophobia. The Index calculated levels of agreement with these five statements: That Muslims living in the United States are more prone to violence than others; that they discriminate against women; that they are hostile to the United States; that they are less civilised than other people; and that they are partially responsible for acts of violence carried out by other Muslims.  The poll found that the level of public endorsement of these five negative stereotypes, and therefore the score of Islamophobia among the general public went up  from 24 in 2018 to 28 in 2019.

Aside from Muslims, the faith groups scoring the lowest are Jews [18]. The Poll found that 53% of Jews report having positive views of Muslims. White Evangelicals scored highest on the index (35), with 44% holding unfavourable opinions, compared to the 20% who held favourable opinions.

The Poll also found that there are several “protective factors” against Islamophobia, with knowing a Muslim personally among them. When a Muslim is a close friend, the likelihood of Islamophobia is further reduced. Other factors that also serve as predictors of lower Islamophobia include Democratic leanings,; knowledge about Islam; favourable views of Jews, Black Americans, and feminists; and higher income. The report points out that Hispanic Americans, the racial group who have the lowest levels of Islamophobia on the index (23), are more likely to know a Muslim personally than white Americans, and that three in four Jews know a Muslim, in contrast to one in three white Evangelicals.

In terms of civic engagement, the Poll found only 16% of American Muslims approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as President. White Evangelicals reported the highest rates of approval (73%), with the rest of the faith groups showing between 24% and 50% rates of approval. While an increase of eligible Muslim voters who are registered to vote is seen (from 60% in 2016 to 73%), this is still lower than other groups, who tally between 85%-95%. The report suggests that this gap may be because 47% of American Muslims are not native-born.

Looking at what would predict voter participation among Muslims, it found that belonging to a high income bracket and an older age group is linked to a greater likelihood of voting in mid terms elections, mirroring trends in the general public. Also similar to the general public where weekly attendance of a religious service is linked to a higher likelihood of voting in midterm elections, weekly mosque attendance stands out as a predictor of midterm voter participation for Muslims. Other predictors of participation include local political engagement. Muslim, Jewish, Black, and Hispanic Americans were also more likely to vote Democrats, all above 65%.

With regards to faith and community, the poll found that Muslims (71%) and white Evangelicals (82%) say more than any other faith group that religion is very important in their daily life. Likely due to the threat of religious discrimination which Muslims report at a higher frequency than other faith groups, Muslims are less likely to take unpopular stands to defend their faith (36%) than white Evangelicals (58%).

The recommendations, on the basis of these findings, are divided in two; recommendations for those working to increase Muslim political impact, and for those working to combat Islamophobia.

For the former, increasing local civic engagement and mobilising at mosques, and building coalitions with “natural allies” that include Hispanic and Jewish Americans is suggested. These groups are most likely to already have existing relationships with Muslim Americans and hold favorable views of the Muslim community. Their similar leanings towards the Democratic parties are also mentioned. The other “natural ally” are Black Americans, one of the largest racial segments of the American Muslim community and who are seasoned in fighting for civil rights and equality. The last recommendation is to focus on younger and economically disadvantaged voters who least likely to be registered to vote are young (18-29) and poor.

To combat Islamophobia, build coalitions with other impacted Communities who are also affected by bigotry, continuing to work towards “demystifying” Islam, look beyond interfaith dialogue to reach out to diverse racial, class and cultural groups and communities, since Islamophobia is more politically driven than religious in nature, and creating more opportunities for personal relationships with Muslims to develop, is recommended.

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