3. The Muslim American experience in the Trump era
U.S. Muslims clearly express concerns and worries about the future of the country and their place in American society in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president. Most Muslims are dissatisfied with the direction the country is going, which is a reversal of opinion from 2011. Majorities of U.S. Muslims view the Republican Party and Trump as unfriendly toward Muslim Americans. And most Muslims say anti-Muslim discrimination is prevalent in American society. These worries and concerns are most pronounced among Muslim women and among those born in the United States.
But there are also signs of optimism among the Muslim community. Even though three-quarters of Muslims say they face a lot of discrimination, there has been an uptick in the share who say someone has expressed support for them because they are Muslim. And about half of Muslims say the American people, as a whole, are friendly toward Muslim Americans.
This chapter also examines opinions about government monitoring of phone calls and emails, treatment of the Muslim community by media outlets and attitudes about the acceptance of Muslims and Islam into mainstream American society.
Trump sparks worry, viewed as unfriendly by Muslim Americans
The survey asked Muslim Americans if Donald Trump spurred in them any of four different emotions: worry, anger, hope and happiness. Far more Muslims express negative emotions associated with Trump than positive ones.
A majority (68%) of U.S. Muslims say Trump makes them feel worried, and fully 45% say Trump makes them feel angry. On the other hand, some do say Trump makes them feel hopeful (26%) or happy (17%). Trump evokes similar levels of worry (60%) and anger (39%) among the general public as he does among Muslims, although Americans overall are more likely than Muslims to say Trump makes them feel hopeful (40%) or happy (30%).
Muslim women express much more worry and anger about Trump than do Muslim men. Indeed, fully three-quarters of Muslim women (76%) say Trump worries them, compared with 60% of Muslim men. And while 54% of Muslim women say Trump makes them feel angry, just 37% of Muslim men agree. (For more on gender differences in opinion among U.S. Muslims, see the Overview.)
Among the two-thirds of Muslims who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, most say Trump makes them feel worried (76%) and angry (57%), while just 19% say he makes them feel hopeful and 13% say he makes them feel happy. Among the 13% of Muslims who identify with or lean toward the GOP, by contrast, far fewer say Trump makes them feel worried or angry, and most (58%) say he makes them feel hopeful.
About three-quarters of U.S. Muslims say Donald Trump is unfriendly toward Muslim Americans, with 12% describing the new president as friendly toward Muslim Americans and 9% saying he is neutral. The data also show that about six-in-ten (59%) say the Republican Party as a whole is unfriendly toward Muslim Americans, up from 48% who expressed this view in 2011.
Muslim women are especially likely to express skepticism of Trump and the GOP’s attitude toward Muslims. Fully eight-in-ten Muslim women say Trump is unfriendly toward Muslims (compared with 68% of men), and about seven-in-ten Muslim women (69%) view the GOP as unfriendly toward Muslims (compared with 49% of Muslim men). The data also show that on these questions, wariness of Trump and the GOP is higher among U.S.-born Muslims than among immigrants.
In their own words: What Muslims said about Trump
Pew Research Center staff called back some of the Muslim American respondents in this survey to get additional thoughts on some of the topics covered. Here is a sampling of what they said about President Donald Trump:
“In terms of the challenges we’re dealing with as a people, humanity … leadership has a role to play. … When I contrast our president with some of the leaders out there and some of the leaders we’ve had, whether Democrats or Republican – it doesn’t matter. There’s a lack of leadership. And the tone he uses to refer to people – Muslims, blacks, Mexicans, Jews. The tone he uses is divisive. It’s poor leadership.” – Muslim man
“Donald Trump is a racist, OK? I’m a black woman. He’s not for the blacks, he’s not for the poor. He’s for himself, is what I believe.” – Muslim woman in 30s
“In his Saudi Arabia meeting, he said that Muslims are one of the greatest faiths in the world. While I do appreciate that, what he said a year ago was different.” – Muslim man under 30
“A lot of us Muslims, we don’t feel safe here anymore. Trump is kind of painting a bad picture for Muslims.” – Muslim woman under 30
“I believe Mr. Donald Trump is a very good president and he can do a lot to the economy because he spent his life as a businessman and engineer, but for politics, he did kind of strong decisions that tended to be unfair, like when he said that seven Muslim countries are not supposed to enter the United States and stuff like this. You can’t treat all the people with the same guilt. Get the people who caused the trouble and prosecute them. It makes you look not that great to the whole world.” – Muslim man over 60
“I am not even sure how I feel. I wish he would just shut up. I thought he would be for the better good of the country. Is it him? Is it the media? I will say I was always Republican and never voted any other way and now I am saying, ‘What is going on?’ I am the first to say we should be careful who to let in the country, but there is a more diplomatic way to do it. For an educated man he is not making educated decisions. And I have family from outside this country. My husband is from Iran. So do I think we should be careful with Iran. My husband has been here since 1985. … I don’t think it is wrong for the government to be careful, but a lot of innocent people are being hurt by this. There are family members I might not be able to see again. They would come every year and now I cannot see them. I believe in protecting our country but the way he is going about it is not the best way.” – Muslim woman in 40s
“I had more of a feeling there might be change. I said they should give him a chance. So far I don’t want to say he did a bad job. I like his vibe. He gets things done. But the health care bill is not so good. It is supposed to be about taking care of the poor and elderly and that is what the bill does not cover. I feel indifferent. I am neither poor nor elderly. It is not a good thing. My opinion of him is the same.” – Muslim man under 30
U.S. Muslims express much more positive views about Democrats’ attitudes toward the Muslim community. About four-in-ten (43%) say the Democratic Party is friendly toward Muslim Americans, and an additional 35% say the party is neutral toward Muslims. Just 13% say the Democratic Party is unfriendly toward Muslims.
Muslims ages 40 and older and those who were born outside the U.S. are especially likely to see the Democratic Party as friendly toward Muslims.
Overall, three-in-ten U.S. Muslims say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country today, while 64% say they are dissatisfied. This is a substantial shift from 2011, when the balance of opinion leaned in the opposite direction.
The change in perspective appears to be bound up, at least in part, with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Among Muslims who approve of Trump’s job performance (19% of U.S. Muslims surveyed), three-quarters say they are happy with the direction of the country (76%). But among the much larger group of Muslims who disapprove of Trump’s handling of his job as president, just 12% are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, while 85% are dissatisfied.
Muslims feel they face unfair media coverage, discrimination
Most Muslim Americans (60%) say coverage of Islam and Muslims by American news organizations is unfair, while just 27% say the coverage has been fair. The view that the media is biased against Islam and Muslims is especially prevalent among women, among whom 68% express this opinion (compared with 52% of Muslim men). And U.S.-born Muslims are more likely than their foreign-born counterparts to say the way the media treats Islam and Muslims is unfair (74% vs. 49%).
The data show, furthermore, that six-in-ten U.S. Muslims (62%) say the American people do not see Islam as part of mainstream American society. And, indeed, a plurality of U.S. adults (50%) say they do not see Islam as part of mainstream American society (for more details on how Americans as a whole view Muslims and Islam, see Chapter 7).
Just three-in-ten U.S. Muslims say the American people see Islam as mainstream; this view is most pronounced among Muslim men and Muslims born outside the U.S.
When asked directly, three-quarters of U.S. Muslims say there is “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. – modestly higher than the 69% of U.S. adults overall who take this position. As is the case for the public overall, Muslims are considerably more likely to say there is a lot of anti-Muslim discrimination (75%) than they are to say there is a lot of discrimination against Hispanics (62%), gays and lesbians (56%), or Jews (33%). Muslims are, however, more likely than the general public to say black people face a lot of discrimination: 71% say this, compared with 59% of U.S. adults.
Muslim women are more likely than men to say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims (83% vs. 68%). And nine-in-ten Muslims born in the United States – including 96% of U.S.-born black Muslims – say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S., compared with 65% of foreign-born Muslims.
Muslim Americans also were asked to describe, in their own words, the most important problem facing Muslims today. The responses most often center on discrimination, persecution, and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims by the rest of U.S. society.
About one-quarter of U.S. Muslims, for instance, volunteer that discrimination, racism or prejudice is the most important problem facing Muslim Americans. Another 13% cite ignorance and misconceptions about Islam as the most important problem. And others say that all Muslims being viewed as terrorists, negative media portrayals of Muslims or Trump’s attitudes and policies toward Muslims are the most important problems facing their community today.
Half of U.S. Muslims say they faced discriminatory treatment in past year
In addition to general questions about discrimination against their community, respondents were asked about their experiences in the past year with five specific forms of discrimination, as well as whether they have seen anti-Muslim graffiti in their communities. One-third (32%) of Muslims say people have acted suspicious of them because they are Muslim. About one-in-five have been called offensive names (19%) or been singled out by airport security (18%). In addition, 10% say they have been singled out by other law enforcement officers, and 6% say they have been physically threatened or attacked. All told, 48% of Muslims say they have experienced at least one of these five types of incidents over the past year, up slightly over the last decade.27
Women are more likely than men to report having experienced one of these events. This is connected to the fact that Muslims who say there is something distinctive about their appearance that could identify them as Muslim are much more likely than Muslims without a distinctly Muslim appearance to have faced one of these types of discrimination. (Women are more likely than men to say there is something distinctive about their appearance – such as a hijab – that others might recognize as Muslim.)
The survey also finds that about one-in-five Muslims (18%) say they have seen anti-Muslim graffiti in their local communities.
Most Muslims think their communications are monitored by government, but figure is even higher among general public
About six-in-ten U.S. Muslims (59%) say it is “very likely” (29%) or “somewhat likely” (30%) that their calls and emails are being monitored by the government. Muslims are less likely than the general public to think their communications are being monitored: 70% of the population as a whole thinks this type of surveillance is either very (37%) or somewhat (33%) likely. (This question did not mention religion as a reason for potential government surveillance.)
Among Muslim Americans, women are more likely than men (70% vs. 48%) to think their communications are at least somewhat likely to be subject to government monitoring.
Muslims were also asked a related question about how worried they are about being surveilled by the government because of their religion. While most Muslims think it is possible that their calls and emails are being monitored in general, fewer express much worry about this happening for religious reasons. Overall, about a third of Muslim adults say they are “very” (15%) or “somewhat” (20%) worried that their phone calls and emails are being monitored by the government because of their religion. About two-thirds of Muslim Americans are “not too” (12%) or “not at all” (53%) worried.
Life in the U.S.: Getting harder for many, but with significant bright spots
Overall, half of U.S. Muslims say it has become more difficult to be Muslim in America in recent years, 44% say it hasn’t changed very much, and 3% volunteer that it has become easier to be Muslim. In 2011 and 2007, similar shares said that it had become more difficult to be Muslim.28
The survey finds that more Muslim women than men say it is getting harder to be a Muslim in the U.S. (57% vs. 43%). And U.S.-born Muslims are more likely than immigrants to express this view (62% vs. 40%).
The survey asked respondents who said it has become more difficult to be Muslim in recent years to share, in their own words, the main reason this is the case. The most common responses (volunteered by 24% of those who say it has become more difficult to be Muslim in the U.S.) centered on extremist Muslims in other countries. For example, one respondent said that Islam has been “hijacked by people called ISIS who I don’t believe are Muslim because they don’t practice what Islam says.” And another respondent said that “terrorist attacks toward American people make a lot of Americans nervous about having Muslims on American soil.”
An additional 17% cited negative portrayals of Muslims in the media, including movies and television shows. And similar shares mentioned stereotyping of Muslims (15%) and Donald Trump’s attitudes and policies toward Muslims (13%) as the main reasons it has recently become more difficult to be Muslim in the U.S.
But while Muslims say they face a number of challenges and express a variety of concerns about life in the U.S., the picture they paint of their experiences is also colored with multiple bright spots. For example, 55% of U.S. Muslims say the American people, as a whole, are friendly toward Muslims, and an additional three-in-ten say the American people are neutral toward Muslims. Just 14% say Americans are unfriendly toward U.S. Muslims.
The view that the public, as a whole, is friendly toward Muslims has become somewhat more widely held since 2011, and it is especially common among foreign-born Muslims, among whom 73% say the American people are friendly toward Muslims. Similarly, seven-in-ten Muslims ages 55 and over and about two-thirds of Muslim men say the same.
The general public is less likely than Muslims to say the American people are friendly toward Muslims; just 36% of U.S. adults overall say this.
In addition, about half of U.S. Muslims (49%) say that, in the past year, someone has expressed support for them because they are Muslim. In 2011 and 2007, fewer Muslims said that someone had expressed support for them because they are Muslim.
And while Muslim women, U.S.-born Muslims and those who have something distinctively Muslim about their appearance are especially likely to say they have experienced discriminatory treatment in recent months, these Muslim subgroups also report receiving expressions of support at higher rates.
- According to FBI statistics, there were 257 reported hate crimes against Muslims in the United States in 2015, a 67% increase over 2014, when there were 154. The 2015 figures were the highest since 2001, when the number of reported hate crimes against Muslims spiked at 481. From 2002 through 2014, there were between 105 and 160 reported hate crimes against Muslims annually. Between 1996 and 2000, there were no more than 32 in any single year. For more information on hate crime data, see Pew Research Center’s Nov. 21, 2016, Fact Tank post “Anti-Muslim assaults reach 9/11-era levels, FBI data show.” ↩
- The current survey asks whether it has become more difficult to be Muslim in the U.S. “in recent years.” Previous surveys asked whether it had become more difficult to be Muslim in the U.S. since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. ↩