January 29, 2015

The political divide on views toward Muslims and Islam

republicans democrats feelings towards muslimsHow much does politics factor into Americans’ perceptions of Muslims and Islam?

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014 shows that people who identify as Republicans or say they lean toward the Republican Party have more negative views of Muslims than do their Democratic counterparts.

Asked to rate a series of religious groups on a “feeling thermometer” from zero (the coldest) to 100 (the warmest), Republicans gave Muslims an average of 33 – comparable to their average rating for atheists (34) and significantly lower than any other religious group.

Democrats’ average rating for Muslims was a more neutral 47. Still, Democrats’ ratings for Muslims were lower than for most other religious groups. Among eight groups tested, only atheists (46 average rating) and Mormons (44) rated as low.

As for American Muslims, they aren’t feeling much warmth from the GOP. A separate, 2011 survey found that 15% of Muslims said that they see the Republican Party as friendly toward their community while 48% said they are unfriendly. By contrast, 46% of Muslims said the Democratic Party is friendly toward them and only 7% said they are unfriendly.

Party affiliation is not the only factor that correlates with differing views toward Muslims and Islam. Younger U.S. adults of all ideological stripes feel more warmly toward Muslims than do older Americans. On the feeling thermometer, those ages 65 and older gave Muslims an average rating of 32 – they don’t rate any group more negatively – while Americans ages 18-29, on average, rated Muslims more positively, at 49.

One’s own religious affiliation also is a factor. For instance, we found that no other religious group is cooler toward Muslims than are white evangelical Protestants, who give Muslims an average rating of 30.

Compared with other groups, older Americans and white evangelicals both tend to affiliate heavily with the Republican Party.

Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to express strong concerns about the rise of Islamic extremism, and to see Islam as a religion that may encourage violence.

In September, a Pew Research Center survey found that 82% of Republicans are “very concerned” about the rise of Islamic extremism in the world, compared with 60% of political independents and 51% of Democrats. Similarly, two-thirds of Republicans (67%) say that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers, compared with 47% of independents and 42% of Democrats.

Topics: Muslims and Islam, Muslim Americans, U.S. Political Parties

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is an editorial manager of religion research at Pew Research Center.