Poll: Americans Skeptical of Islam and Arabs

ByABC News
March 8, 2006, 12:37 PM

March 8, 2006 — -- Public views of Islam are one casualty of the post-Sept. 11, 2001 conflict: Nearly six in 10 Americans think the religion is prone to violent extremism, nearly half regard it unfavorably, and a remarkable one in four admits to prejudicial feelings against Muslims and Arabs alike.

Such views have worsened in the crucible of the post-9/11 world. Fifty-eight percent think there are more violent extremists within Islam than within other religions, up 20 points since early 2002.

Forty-five percent think mainstream Islam doesn't teach respect for the beliefs of non-Muslims, double what it was. A third believe mainstream Islam encourages violence against nonbelievers, more than double its early 2002 level.

In the most basic measure, 46 percent of Americans express a generally unfavorable opinion of Islam, a new high and again nearly double what it was in early 2002 -- a troubling assessment of the world's second-largest religion, one practiced by an estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide, or about 20 percent of humanity.

Unfamiliarity accompanies these suspicions: Nearly six in 10 Americans say they don't have a basic understanding of Islam, a number that hasn't changed substantially in recent years. Those who are more familiar with the religion are a good deal more likely to view it favorably, and to think of it as peaceful and respectful of other faiths.

Still, while people who feel familiar with Islam regard it more favorably, they're about as likely as others to report some personal feelings of prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. Knowledge alone is not the key to tolerance.

Admissions of prejudice are not unique. In a 1999 ABC News poll, about a third of Americans (whites and blacks alike) admitted at least some "racist feelings." In a 2000 poll, far fewer, 6 percent, admitted feelings of prejudice against Jews.

In this survey, 27 percent of Americans admit at least some feelings of prejudice against Muslims; about as many, 25 percent, say they've had prejudiced thoughts toward Arabs. There are some differences among groups. Such feelings about Muslims peak among evangelical white Protestants, and among Republican men.