Republicans prefer blunt talk about Islamic extremism, Democrats favor caution

From Pew Research Center

Half of Americans say the next president should be careful not to criticize Islam as a whole when speaking about Islamic extremists, while four-in-ten want the next president to speak bluntly about Islamic extremists even if the statements are critical of Islam as a whole. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that blunt talk is preferred by two-thirds of Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party (65%), while seven-in-ten Democrats and independents who lean Democratic express the opposite view, saying the next president should speak carefully about Islamic extremism so as not to criticize Islam as a whole.

The study also shows that many Americans think a substantial segment of the U.S. Muslim population is anti-American. While four-in-ten adults say “just a few” Muslims in the country are anti-American (or that none are), roughly half of the public believes that at least “some” U.S. Muslims are anti-American, including 11% who say “most” or “almost all” U.S. Muslims are anti-American and 14% who think “about half” the U.S. Muslim population is anti-American.

The new findings come on the heels of a separate Pew Research Center surveyconducted in December 2015, which found that 46% of Americans think Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence and that a similar share (49%) say they are “very concerned” about the rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S.

While many Americans are concerned about Islamic extremism, the new survey shows that most people think the problem with violence committed in the name of religion is people rather than with religionper se. Indeed, fully two-thirds of Americans say the bigger problem is that some violent people use religion to justify their actions (68%). Only about a fifth (22%) say the bigger problem is that the teachings of some religions promote violence.

However, when those who say they think religious teachings are the bigger problem are asked to specify which religions they think are problematic, Islam is the most common response offered. Among U.S. adults overall, 14% think the main problem with violence committed in the name of religion is that some religious teachings encourage violence and that Islam, in particular, does this.

These are among the key findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 7-14, 2016, on landlines and cellphones among a national sample of 2,009 adults. The survey finds that six-in-ten Americans think there is “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. And fully three-quarters (76%) think discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. is increasing. Even most of those who do not think there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims nevertheless believe anti-Muslim discrimination is on the rise.

The survey shows a clear partisan component to views about Islam. Whereas more than half of Democrats say “just a few” Muslims in the U.S. are anti-American, most Republicans think anti-Americanism is more widespread. About six-in-ten Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP think at least “some” U.S. Muslims harbor anti-American views, including one-third who think at least half of Muslims are anti-American. Views on this question have become more politically polarized since it was last asked in 2002. At that time, there was little difference in the shares of Republicans and Democrats who said “just a few” Muslims are anti-American.

Today, Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say the main problem with violence committed in the name of religion is that some religions espouse violent teachings (though this is the minority view within both parties at 32% and 15%, respectively).

Americans divided over how next president should talk about Islamic extremists

Half of Americans (50%) say the next president should “be careful not to criticize Islam as a whole when speaking about Islamic extremists,” while four-in-ten (40%) say the next president should “speak bluntly about Islamic extremists even if the statements are critical of Islam as a whole.”

Views on how the next president should address Islamic extremism are firmly divided along partisan and ideological lines. Seven-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (70%) – including eight-in-ten liberal Democrats (80%) – say the next president should be careful not to criticize Islam as a whole. By contrast, about two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (65%) – including seven-in-ten conservative Republicans (70%) – want the next president to speak bluntly about extremism even if it means being critical of Islam.

Among religious groups, most black Protestants (62%) and people without a religious affiliation (65%) say the president should be careful not to criticize Islam as a whole when addressing Islamic extremism. By contrast, about six-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (61%) want the next president to speak bluntly when discussing Islamic extremism, even if that means being critical of Islam. Catholics and white mainline Protestants are more evenly divided on this question.

Blacks and adults under age 30 are more likely than whites and older adults to prefer the next president take care not to criticize Islam as a whole. The survey also finds that roughly two-thirds of Americans with a post-graduate degree want the next president to be careful not to criticize Islam as a whole when discussing Islamic extremism; fewer Americans with less education share this perspective.

In addition to addressing how the next president should approach Islamic extremism, the survey asked Americans what kind of president several of the leading candidates would make if elected – great, good, average, poor or terrible. (For a complete analysis, see“Voters Skeptical That 2016 Candidates Would Make Good Presidents.”) The data show that among Republican voters who want the next president to speak bluntly about Islamic extremism even if it means being critical of Islam (69% of all Republican voters), a solid majority thinks that both Donald Trump (63%) and Ted Cruz (61%) would be good or great presidents. The possibility of Marco Rubio and Ben Carson becoming president also is viewed more positively than negatively by Republican voters who prefer a blunt approach to discussing Islamic extremism. About half say that Carson (47%) or Rubio (46%) would make either a good or great president.

Among the much smaller group of GOP voters who would like the next president to be careful not to criticize Islam when discussing extremism – 26% of all GOP voters – about as many say Donald Trump would make a poor or terrible president (40%) as say he would make a good or great one (41%). For Ted Cruz, attitudes among this group of Republican voters are mostly positive (38% good or great) or average (35%).

Views on whether some other Republican candidates (Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich) would be successful presidents are for the most part mixed regardless of whether blunt talk or careful speech about Islamic extremism is preferred.

Attitudes on violence committed in the name of religion

When asked their view about violence committed in the name of religion, most Americans (68%) say the bigger problem is that “some violent people use religion to justify their actions.” Only about one-in-five (22%) say the bigger problem is that “the teachings of some religions promote violence.”

The latter group was asked an open ended follow-up question about which religion or religions promote violence. Islam is the most commonly offered answer; 14% of Americans believe Islam, in particular, has teachings that promote violence. Far fewer people name Christianity or another religion (1%). About 2% say that multiple religions (or all religions) encourage violence.

Across major religious groups, half or more say the bigger problem with violence committed in the name of religion is that some violent people use religion to justify their actions; 55% of white evangelical Protestants and fully three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated (76%) express this view.

Majorities of most partisan and ideological groups say the greater problem with religious violence is people who use religion to justify it. Among conservative Republicans, however, the balance of opinion is more divided. While about half (48%) say the bigger problem is violent people using religion to justify their actions, 39% say some religions have teachings that encourage violence. This latter group includes fully a third of all conservative Republicans who name Islam as a religion with teachings that encourage violence.

The survey also shows that younger people and those with higher levels of educational attainment are more likely than older and less highly educated people to attribute religious violence to individuals who use religion to justify violent acts.

Perceptions of anti-Americanism among Muslims in the U.S.

Roughly four-in-ten Americans (42%) say “few,” if any, Muslims in the U.S. are anti-American. About as many say “about half” (14%) or “some” (24%) Muslims in this country are anti-American. And about one-in-ten Americans believe that “most” (6%) or “almost all” (5%) Muslims in the U.S. are anti-American.

Though few Americans say all or most Muslims in the U.S. are anti-American, this view is more common among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (16%) than among Democrats and Democratic leaners (7%). Roughly a fifth of conservative Republicans (19%) express this view, compared with 5% of liberal Democrats.

Conversely, fewer than a third of Republicans and Republican leaners (29%) say that few or none of the Muslims in this country are anti-American, while about half of Democrats (54%) — including 67% of liberal Democrats — say this.

The religiously unaffiliated are more likely than other major religious groups to say that few or none of the Muslims in the U.S. are anti-American (59%). White evangelical Protestants are the least likely to say this (26%).

The belief that few, if any, U.S. Muslims are anti-American also is more common among younger people than among older Americans and among those with high levels of education than among those with less schooling.

Attitudes about anti-American sentiment among U.S. Muslims have changed only modestly for the public overall since the question last was asked in 2002. At that time, 9% of Americans thought “most” or “almost all” Muslims in the U.S. were anti-American (compared with 11% today); 33% thought “about half” or “some” Muslims were anti-American (compared with 39% today); and 39% thought only “a few” Muslims were anti-American (compared with 41% today).

However, perceptions about anti-Americanism among U.S. Muslims have become much more partisan since 2002. At that time, there was little difference in the shares of Republicans (40%) and Democrats (39%) who said that “just a few” Muslims were anti-American. Today, 54% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say there is little anti-Americanism among U.S. Muslims, while 29% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the same.

Views of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S.

Most Americans (59%) say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. today. This view is particularly common among Democrats (74%); far fewer Republicans and Republican leaners say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims (42%). And among conservative Republicans, only about one-in-three (32%) say this, while nearly two thirds (62%) say there is not a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S.

Among religious groups, fewer than half of white evangelicals (44%) say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S., compared with half of white mainline Protestants (50%) and two-thirds of black Protestants (67%). Six-in-ten Catholics (61%) and roughly three-quarters of religious “nones” (73%) say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S.

Roughly eight-in-ten adults under age 30 (79%) say there is a lot of anti-Muslim discrimination in the U.S.; far fewer older adults say the same. The data also show that blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to say Muslims face a lot of discrimination in the U.S.
Most Americans (76%) – including majorities of all major partisan and demographic groups – say discrimination against Muslims living in the U.S. is increasing. Even most of those who think there is not a lot of discrimination against Muslims nevertheless think anti-Muslim discrimination is on the rise (56%).

Familiarity with Muslims

About half of Americans (52%) say they personally know someone who is Muslim. This includes 10% who say they know a lot of Muslims, 26% who say they know “some” Muslims and 16% who say they know one or two Muslims.

Blacks, young people and those with a college degree are more likely than other groups to say they personally know someone who is Muslim. This may be explained, in part, by the demographics of Muslims themselves, who make up about 1% of the U.S. population. Muslims in the U.S. tend to be younger and more highly educated than the U.S. publicoverall. And about a quarter of U.S. Muslims (23%) identify as black or African American.

Among those who personally know someone who is Muslim, half (51%) say that “just a few” U.S. Muslims are anti-American. By comparison, among those who do not know anyone who is Muslim, 31% think “just a few” U.S. Muslims are anti-American while a larger share (55%) say at least some Muslims in the U.S. are anti-American.

[Those who know someone who is Muslim more likely to say few U.S. Muslims are anti-American] The study also finds differing views on how the next president should speak about Islamic extremists among those who personally know someone who is Muslim and those who do not. More than half of those who say they know a Muslim (55%) would prefer that the next president be careful not to criticize Islam as a whole when speaking about Islamic extremists, while 38% favor blunt speech from the next president even if it is critical of Islam. By contrast, those who do not know anyone who is Muslim hold mixed views on how the next president should discuss Islamic extremists. As many favor a careful approach (45%) as say they want the next president to speak bluntly (42%).

On the subject of discrimination, however, majorities of both those who personally know someone who is Muslim (62%) and those who do not (57%) say Muslims face “a lot” of discrimination in the U.S. today. And roughly three-quarters in both groups say discrimination toward Muslims is increasing.

Similarly, people who know a Muslim and those who do not largely agree that the bigger problem with religion committed in the name of violence is that violent people use religion to justify their action, not that some religions have teachings that promote violence.

Read more at Pew Research Center

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