American Muslims Face Discrimination in the US, and it is Increasing: Public Opinion Analysis

In recent months, likely due to a combination of high-profile terror attacks and vitriolic political rhetoric, Americans’ attitudes toward Muslims and Islam as a whole have become somewhat more negative. In the wake of Brussels, ReThink Media compared publicly available polls asking questions about Americans’ attitudes towards Islam and American Muslims and compared them to similar polling questions from the last few months, including after the San Bernardino attack last December.

Our analysis indicates that Islamophobia may be deepening in the wake of the March 22 bombings in Brussels. Although only a few polls have been released so far, results show either the same or more negative attitudes towards Muslims and Islam than in the immediate aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings.
We strongly encourage organizations or advocates reading these findings to take note of two primary takeaways:

  1. it is even more important for our community to publicly acknowledge that now is a very dangerous time to be American and Muslim, since Americans largely agree that American Muslims face discrimination and they will be moved by personal experiences.
  2. The public largely does not know enough about Islam and American Muslims; responding to acts of terror with an explanation of faith and personal experience will likely go farther with audiences, rather than just condemnation.

Findings

  1. Americans continue to recognize that Muslims face discrimination in the United States, and think that discrimination is increasing. 
  2. The public isn’t sure whether Muslims are anti-American or patriotic—the few polls asking about this show quite mixed results, and do not define “anti-American” or “patriotic.”
  3. Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam, particularly when compared with other religions. This has not changed substantially in recent months, and is unlikely to change quickly: views of religions are fairly static over time.
  4. Americans are uncertain about whether Islam encourages more violence than other religions. Some polls find that majorities or pluralities think it does, other polls find the opposite. Only one post-Brussels poll has asked about this.
  5. Support for a proposed “Muslim ban” on people entering the country seems to be increasing.
  6. When it comes to talking about Islamic extremism, more Americans think the president should be careful not to criticize the religion or community has a whole than favor “blunt talk,” even at the expense of generalizing. But that gap may have narrowed in the wake of the Brussels attacks. There is a very wide partisan gap, with Republicans firmly on the side of “bluntness.”
  7. About a third of the public thinks that Muslims are more sympathetic to terrorists than other people are; the majority who think Muslims are not more sympathetic to terrorists may be decreasing, though. Americans are split on whether more Muslims or non-Muslims are the victims of terrorist attacks, but slightly more seem to erroneously believe non-Muslims are the majority of victims.
  8. Americans are unsure about whether law enforcement should use racial/ethnic/religious profiling to search for potential terrorists—and they seem less sure now than a few months ago. The public is also less certain that Muslims shouldn’t be subject to more scrutiny or police patrols than other religious groups. 
  9. One poll indicates that about half of Republicans think Muslims should (continue to) be allowed to serve in the military, while 39% think Muslims should be banned from military service. This is the only poll known to have asked this question.

Download the PDF to read the full analysis.

Polls Cited

Now:

  • March 25, 2016 YouGov: https://today.yougov.com/news/2016/03/25/fear-aggression-military/
  • March 28, 2016 YouGov: https://today.yougov.com/news/2016/03/28/divide-muslim-neighborhood-patrols/
  • March 29, 2016 Morning Consult: https://morningconsult.com/2016/03/polling-muslim-travel-ban-patrolling-muslim-neighborhood/

Then:

  • February 20, 2015 YouGov: https://rethinkmedia.org/opinion/breaking-poll/73-think-muslim-americans-face-lot-discrimination-economistyougov
  • November 17, 2015 Public Religion Research Institute: https://rethinkmedia.org/opinion/breaking-poll/56-americans-believe-values-islam-are-incompatible-american-values-and-way (mistakenly referred to as September 2015 in the document.)
  • December 9, 2015 YouGov: https://rethinkmedia.org/opinion/breaking-poll/35-americans-support-ban-muslims-entering-united-states-53-are-opposed-yougov
  • December 11, 2015 CBS: https://rethinkmedia.org/opinion/breaking-poll/58-americans-oppose-barring-muslims-entering-united-states-cbs
  • December 15, 2015 Monmouth University: https://rethinkmedia.org/opinion/breaking-poll/67-americans-oppose-banning-muslims-entering-united-states-monmouth-university
  • December 15, 2015 Pew Research Center: https://rethinkmedia.org/opinion/breaking-poll/slight-majority-americans-believe-government-doing-poor-job-reducing-threat
  • December 23, 2015 Quinnipiac University: https://rethinkmedia.org/opinion/breaking-poll/55-americans-think-mainstream-islam-religion-peace-quinnipiac
  • February 3, 2016 Pew Research Center: https://rethinkmedia.org/opinion/breaking-poll/50-americans-think-more-few-muslims-united-states-are-anti-american-pew

In recent months, likely due to a combination of high-profile terror attacks and vitriolic political rhetoric, Americans’ attitudes toward Muslims and Islam as a whole have become somewhat more negative. In the wake of Brussels, ReThink Media compared publicly available polls asking questions about Americans’ attitudes towards Islam and American Muslims and compared them to similar polling questions from the last few months, including after the San Bernardino attack last December.