Americans View Islam Less Negatively than they Did a Year Ago
By Ariel Edwards-Levy
Americans’ view of Islam is, by and large, hostile. But negative opinions of the religion have dropped significantly during the past year, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, despite ― or perhaps in response to ― the anti-Islam rhetoric often espoused by President Donald Trump and his advisers.
Last March, Americans were 42 points more likely to view the religion negatively than they were to view it positively. That gap dropped to 33 points by June, and to 20 points in the most recent survey, the lowest it’s been since HuffPost/YouGov surveys first asked the question nearly two years ago.
At least one other pollster has noticed a similar shift. ShibleyTelhami, the director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, wrote in The Washington Post earlier this year about having seen attitudes toward “Muslim people” growing progressively more favorable between November 2015 and October 2016 ― even after Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida.
He attributed some of the change to polarization, noting that the biggest driver was evolving opinions among Democrats, and, to a lesser extent, independents.
“As on almost all issues, partisan divisions intensified during a highly divisive election year,” he wrote. “The more one side emphasized the issue — as happened with Trump on Islam and Muslims — the more the other side took the opposite position. ... Trump the president should have more sway. But he is starting at place where partisanship is not diminishing, and where his presidential rhetoric mirrors his words as a partisan candidate.”
Breaking down the two most recent HuffPost/YouGov surveys along party lines yields similar results, suggesting that the Trump administration’s rhetoric has actually galvanized Democrats, and some independents, into greater support of Islam.
In June 2016, Democrats, Republicans and independents all held net negative views of Islam, although the gap was most pronounced among Republicans. Since then, Democrats’ opinions of the religion have improved significantly ― favorable opinions have risen by 11 points, while unfavorable opinions have fallen by 13 points.
Independents’ negativity toward Islam has also noticeably lessened, although that primarily reflects opinions shifting from “unfavorable” to “not sure,” rather than an increase in positive opinions.
Further politicizing opinions of Islam could have been a double-edged sword, with Democrats’ improved opinions coming at the cost of inflaming Republicans’ already-hostile views. But if anything, Republican views seem to have stayed the same, or even moderated slightly. Unfavorable views of Islam among the GOP dropped 4 points, on the edge between statistical noise and a measurable shift.
Most of the public believes that Muslims face significant prejudice, although views on that question haven’t undergone the same recent shift. A 52 percent majority of Americans say there is “a lot of discrimination against Muslims” in the United States, roughly unchanged from the 54 percent that said so last June. Fifty-nine percent say discrimination against Muslims is currently increasing, down from the 70 percent that said so eight months ago.
The drop in anti-Islam sentiment hasn’t affected the percentage of Americans who believe that Muslim Americans are more sympathetic to terrorists than other American citizens ― 31 percent in the most recent survey, and 32 percent last June.
It also hasn’t translated into a decline in anti-Muslim hate crimes. Such crimes surged last year, reaching the highest level since 2001.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Feb. 3-6 among US adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult US population.
The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.
Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. (The author is Staff Reporter and Polling Director of The Huffington Post. Picture courtesy Spencer Platt via Getty Images)