Muslim Center Near Ground Zero: Cordoba House Controversy Could Pose Political Risks

VIDEO: Mayor Mike Bloomberg and "GMAs" Robin Robert tour ground zero.

The debate over construction of a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan could carry political risks: Four in 10 registered voters -- overwhelmingly opponents of the plan -- say they feel strongly enough about it that it could influence their vote for Congress this fall.

At the same time, the complaint is with this particular site: While 66 percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll oppose construction of the Cordoba House facility, 82 percent of opponents say they object to its proposed location, not to building mosques in general.

There is nonetheless substantial, continued suspicion in this country of Islam, a faith practiced by an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide, but by fewer than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Among those results:

A quarter of Americans (26 percent) admit to feelings of prejudice against Muslims, and just 37 percent express a favorable opinion of Islam overall -- the fewest in ABC/Post polls dating to October 2001 (albeit by just 2 points). Forty-nine percent view the religion unfavorably -- essentially the same as in the spring, but well up from its lows in 2002, when many were undecided.

Just 54 percent call Islam a peaceful religion, while a substantial minority, 31 percent, thinks mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims. This view has held steady since 2003, after doubling from 2002.

Unfamiliarity is part of the picture. Fifty-five percent say they lack a good, basic understanding of the teachings and beliefs of Islam. Half say they do not personally know anyone who is a Muslim. At the same time, familiarity with Islam has grown by 18 points since 2002, and personally knowing a Muslim is up by 8 points since '01.

Click Here for PDF With Charts and Questionnaire

Familiarity with Islam doesn't significantly influence views on the Cordoba House issue. But it is a factor in broader views. People who feel familiar with Islam, or who know a Muslim, have substantially more favorable views of the religion, by 17 and 19 points respectively. (Overall favorability is not up because people who express unfamiliarity with Islam have grown sharply more negative in their opinions of the religion since 2006.)

ABC News Poll: Distrust of Islam

CORDOBA HOUSE: Majorities across almost all population groups oppose construction of the Cordoba House, described in this survey as a planned "Muslim community center and place of worship." (While widely described as a mosque, it's not, because it's planned to be used for non-religious as well as religious purposes.) In only two groups, among people who profess no religion and among the "very" liberal, do majorities, 56 and 53 percent respectively, support construction.

There are differences across other groups nonetheless. Most strikingly, opposition to construction peaks at 89 percent among people who see Islam as violent and 87 percent among those who view it unfavorably overall. Opposition is 46 points lower among those who see Islam favorably, and 36 points lower among those who see it as a peaceful religion.

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