November 18, 2009

Modest Rise in Concern About Islamic Extremism

The public continues to express concern about the rise of Islamic extremism in the United States and abroad, but a survey taken shortly after the deadly Nov. 5 shootings at the Fort Hood Army base shows only a modest increase in these concerns since 2007.
No Spike in Concerns About<br /><br /> Islamic Extremism
Just more than half (52%) of Americans say they are very concerned about the possible rise of Islamic extremism in the United States. That is up from 46% in April 2007. The percentage that says they are somewhat worried dropped slightly from 32% in 2007 to 27%. There has been no significant change in the small percentages who say they are not too worried or not worried at all about the possible rise of Islamic extremism in the United States.

Public concerns about the rise of Islamic extremism around the world largely mirror levels measured in April 2007, according to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Nov. 12-15 among 1,003 Americans reached on landlines and cell phones. Today, 49% say they are very concerned about this, compared with 48% in April 2007. Nearly three-in-ten (29%) say they are somewhat concerned, compared with 33% in the 2007 survey.

In recent weeks, the public has paid close attention to the shootings at the Texas Army base that left 13 dead and a Muslim Army psychiatrist charged with the killings. According to the Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index, the public followed the story more closely than any other news the week of the tragedy and continues to closely follow the investigation into the shooting in this week’s News Interest Index.

The Fort Hood shootings came amid an increase in the past year in reports about alleged terror plots or actions undertaken by people within the U.S. said to oppose U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In September, for example, an Afghan-born Muslim man and Denver resident – who reportedly received training and weapons from al-Qaeda in Pakistan – was arrested as part of an alleged bombmaking scheme.
Concerns about Possible Rise of<br /><br /> Islamic Extremism in the U.S.
Still, the survey shows no sea change in the population as a whole and only modest political and demographic changes in concerns over increasing Islamic extremism in the United States. Currently, a majority of political independents (55%) say they are very concerned by the possible rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S., up from 43% in 2007. About two-thirds of Republicans (65%) express this view, not much different from the 59% who said this two years ago. There has been virtually no change in opinions among Democrats (44% very concerned today, 46% in 2007).

Young people continue to express far lower levels of concern about the rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S. than do older age groups. Slightly more than a third of those younger than 30 (36%) say they are very concerned about this, compared with 60% of those 65 and older and 65% of those ages 50 to 64.

More than half of those with no college experience (55%) say they are very concerned about the possible rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S., compared with 46% of college graduates.

About the Survey

Results for this report are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a nationwide sample of 1,003 adults, 18 years of age or older, from Nov. 12-15 (700 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 303 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 92 who had no landline telephone). Both the landline and cell phone samples were provided by Survey Sampling International.

The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race/ethnicity, region, and population density to parameters from the March 2008 Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The sample is also weighted to match current patterns of telephone status and relative usage of landline and cell phones (for those with both), based on extrapolations from the 2008 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size within the landline sample.

The error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for the total sample is plus or minus 4 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.

About the Projects

This survey is a joint effort of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Both organizations are sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and are projects of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press is an independent opinion research group that studies attitudes toward the press, politics and public policy issues. The Center’s purpose is to serve as a forum for ideas on the media and public policy through public opinion research. In this role it serves as an important information resource for political leaders, journalists, scholars, and public interest organizations. All of the Center’s current survey results are made available free of charge.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life seeks to promote a deeper understanding of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. It studies public opinion, demographics and other important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. It also provides a neutral venue for discussions of timely issues through roundtables and briefings.

This report is a collaborative product based on the input and analysis of the following individuals:

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Luis Lugo, Director
Alan Cooperman and Sandra Stencel, Associate Directors
John C. Green and Gregory Smith, Senior Researchers
Allison Pond and Neha Sahgal, Research Associates
Scott Clement, Research Analyst
Tracy Miller and Hilary Ramp, Editors

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
Andrew Kohut, Director
Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research
Carroll Doherty and Michael Dimock, Associate Directors
Michael Remez, Senior Writer
Robert Suls, Shawn Neidorf, Leah Melani Christian, Jocelyn Kiley and Alec Tyson, Research Associates
Jacob Poushter, Research Analyst