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

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

Reflecting these sentiments, 83 percent of Republicans are opposed, compared with 53 percent of Democrats. (Among independents it's 65 percent -- at the approximate midpoint between political partisans.) Opposition is 87 percent among self-described "very conservative" adults (three-quarters "strongly" opposed) and 86 percent among evangelical white Protestants, two groups that hold Islam in especially deep suspicion.

Whites are much more apt than nonwhites to oppose construction, likely reflecting their partisan differences. And there's also a generational difference: While 56 percent of adults younger than 40 oppose construction of the Cordoba House, 72 percent of their elders are against building it.

POLITICS: As noted, the results suggest political risk in advocating construction of the facility at its planned location. That's because 42 percent of registered voters say they feel strongly enough about the issue that it may influence their votes -- and 80 percent in this group oppose construction.

That's a net total of 34 percent who both oppose construction and say the issue could affect their votes. Their opposites -- the number who favor construction, and say the issue could affect their vote -- is far lower, 8 percent.

ABC News Poll: the Muslim Community Center

ISLAM/GROUPS: As with the Cordoba House controversy, there are sharp divisions in overall attitudes on Islam. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to view the religion favorably, 49 percent vs. 24 percent. Young adults, the most-educated Americans, liberals and those with no religion are most apt to view Islam favorably; their opposites are most critical of the faith.

Views on violence follow a similar pattern. More than four in 10 Republicans, 43 percent, say mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims. That subsides to 24 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of independents.

PREJUDICE: It's a closer call across groups in the numbers who report "at least some feelings of prejudice" against Muslims -- for example, a quarter of Democrats and independents, and a similar 31 percent of Republicans.

For perspective, at 26 percent, self-reported feelings of prejudice against Muslims are lower than self-reported feelings of racial prejudice, 35 percent in an ABC/Post poll in 2009, including roughly equal numbers of whites and African-Americans alike.

Self-reported prejudice against Muslims is far higher than the number of Americans who say they oppose building mosques in general, not simply the Cordoba House at its planned location. That's 9 percent of the public.

METHODOLOGY: This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Aug. 30-Sept. 2, 2010, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results for the full sample have a 3.5-point error margin. Click here for a detailed description of sampling error. This survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y, with sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

ABC News polls can be found at ABCNEWS.com at http://abcnews.com/pollingunit

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