September 9, 2004

Views of Islam Remain Sharply Divided

Plurality Sees Islam as More Likely to Encourage Violence

Despite the U.S. war in Iraq and the continuing threat of terrorism at home, public attitudes toward Islam have remained stable over the past year. Roughly four-in-ten Americans (39%) say they have a favorable impression of Islam, while about as many (37%) say they have an unfavorable view. The balance of opinion has not changed substantially in the past year (40% favorable in July 2003).

A plurality of Americans (46%) believes that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers, while 37% say Islam does not encourage violence more than other religions. This measure also is substantially unchanged from last year, when 44% felt Islam was more likely to encourage violence. But the 2003 figure represented a substantial increase over the 25% who expressed this view in March 2002.

The nationwide survey of 2,009 adults, conducted July 8-18 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, also finds a small decrease over the past year in perceptions of anti-Americanism among Muslims around the world. A slim 44% plurality believes that “just a few” or “some” Muslims are anti-American. That compares with 42% who say that “about half” (19%), “most,” or “almost all” (23%) Muslims around the world are anti-American. In July 2003, 49% said about half or more Muslims worldwide were anti-American. In March 2002, 36% expressed that view.

Gaps Persist in Views of Islam

There continue to be significant demographic and political differences in public opinion toward Islam. On balance, younger Americans, those under age 30, hold a more favorable view of Islam; older age groups are divided, with a relatively large minority of those age 65 and older expressing no opinion (39%).

Among religious groups, seculars by two-to-one express a favorable opinion of Islam (50%-25%). A plurality of white Catholics also has a positive impression of Islam (43% fav/34% unfav). But white evangelical Protestants, on balance, have a negative opinion of Islam (46% unfav/29% fav). And more than half of white evangelicals who attend church at least once a week have an unfavorable impression of Islam.

There also are sharp ideological differences in impressions of Islam. A solid majority of liberal Democrats (56%) say they have a favorable opinion of Islam. Conservative and moderate Democrats are less favorable (44%), but positive opinions outnumber negative ones. Republicans are less positive toward Islam, and 45% of conservative Republicans say they have an unfavorable opinion of the religion.

About the Survey

Results for the July 2004 Foreign Policy and Party Images survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a nationwide sample of 2,009 adults, 18 years of age or older, during the period July 8-18, 2004. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. For results based on 1,568 Registered Voters, the sampling error is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. For results based on either Form 1 (N=1003) or Form 2 (N=1006) general public, the sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.