How it Became Acceptable to Publicly Reveal Bias Against Muslims in America

Before gauging whether you are in line with most of America in your opinion about Muslim immigrants, here are two things you should know: Firstly, Americans are no more opposed to granting citizenship to Muslim immigrants than Christian immigrants. Secondly, despite no real difference in opinion, Americans are significantly more open about their opposition to a Muslim becoming a citizen. In other words, what is unique is not the extent to which opposition exists, but the extent to which it is out in the open.

About a year ago, in the spring of 2010, with funding from the National Science Foundation’s Time-Sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences program, we decided to see if Americans really felt differently about the incorporation of Muslims into American citizenry. Because the U.S. has a long tradition of religious tolerance, we worried that Americans might feel uncomfortable expressing an intolerant view toward a specific religious group. To get around this, we randomly assigned the 2,366 participants in our study to three groups. One group we asked directly whether they supported or opposed giving legal Muslim or Christian immigrants citizenship. A second and third group we asked about these two religious groups separately and indirectly, never forcing respondents to reveal their opinion to the interviewer or anyone. This approach, called a “list experiment,” has been used to consider other controversial topics such an affirmative action and same-sex marriage. Its unique insight is not just into the level of opposition, but the degree to which it is hidden.

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