July 24, 2003

Poll: Growing Number of Americans Say Islam Encourages Violence Among Followers

Religious Divides on Gay Marriage, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A poll released today by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that there has been an important shift in public perceptions of Islam. Fully 44 percent of the American public now believes that Islam is more likely than other religions “to encourage violence among its believers.” As recently as March 2002, just 25 percent expressed this view.

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“Our findings in this area actually point in different directions,” said Melissa Rogers, executive director of the Pew Forum. “On the one hand, there’s certainly an increase in the number of Americans who believe that Islam encourages violence. Yet at the same time, a narrow majority of the public continues to have favorable views of Muslim-Americans, and only 24 percent have an unfavorable view.”

The survey on religion in American public life, the third annual poll of its kind, also finds that a majority (53 percent) opposes allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, compared with 38 percent who support the idea. But opposition to gay marriage has decreased significantly since the mid-1990s, from 65 percent in 1996. The shift in favor of gay marriage is seen in nearly every segment of society, with two significant exceptions – white evangelical Protestants and African Americans, both of which have maintained their level of opposition since 1996.

“This finding underscores an important fact of American politics,” said E.J. Dionne Jr., co-chair of the Pew Forum and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “On questions of religion and morality there’s a remarkable overlap in views of white evangelicals and African Americans, yet these groups couldn’t be more different when it comes to questions of partisan politics and President Bush.”

Religious beliefs also play a significant role in Americans’ understanding of foreign affairs. More than four-in-ten Americans (44 percent) believe that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people, while a substantial minority (36 percent) thinks that the modern state of Israel is a “fulfillment of the biblical prophecy about the second coming of Jesus.”

In other findings:

• The public at large is quite comfortable with President Bush’s evocation of faith and what many perceive as his reliance on religious beliefs in making policy decisions. A 62 percent majority thinks Bush strikes the right balance in how much he mentions his religious faith, and nearly as many (58 percent) believe the president’s reliance on religion in policymaking is appropriate.

• Nearly four-in-ten (38 percent) say they would not vote for a well-qualified Muslim for president, and 17 percent would not vote for a well-qualified evangelical Christian. Fully 52 percent say they would not vote for a well-qualified atheist.

• Fully 72 percent of Americans agree that the government should provide universal health insurance, even if it means repealing most tax cuts passed since President Bush took office. Democrats overwhelmingly favor this proposal (86 percent-11 percent) and independents largely agree (78 percent-19 percent). Even a narrow majority of Republicans (51 percent) favor providing health insurance for all even if it means canceling the tax cuts, while 44 percent disagree.

The nationwide survey of 2,002 adults was conducted June 24-July 8 by the Pew Forum and the Pew Research Center and has a margin of error plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life serves as both a town hall and a clearinghouse of information on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. The Forum is strictly non-partisan and does not take positions on legislation or policy matters. It is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts through a grant to Georgetown University.