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Fear of Muslims in American Society

—Ann Gordon, L. Edward Day, Christopher D. Bader, and Joseph O. Baker

Chapman University Survey of American Fears

Ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and Great Pumpkins make Halloween fun. We enjoy being scared—if we know it’s for fun. When we begin to fear our neighbors, the fear gets real.

Roughly 1% of the U.S. adult population are Muslims. The political and social scrutiny focused on this small group has led to major political figures advocating discriminatory practices based on religion alone.

In the 2016 Chapman University Survey of American Fears (CSAF), conducted during the late spring and summer of 2016 as presidential campaigns were at full speed, we explored how Americans as a whole view Muslims. In 2018 and 2019, we’ve reexamined many of the same items to see if American opinions have changed. They have.

A Move Away from Support for Institutionalized Discrimination

We included four questions that directly measured opinions regarding Muslims. Two questions focused on whether there should be increased social monitoring of Muslims compared to other groups. These asked whether Muslims should be subjected to increased screening at airports and whether America should cease all immigration from Muslim countries. The other two items focused on general attitudes toward Muslims, the first asking if Muslims are more likely than others to be terrorists and the second asking if respondents would be comfortable with a mosque being built in their neighborhood. Results comparing 2016 responses to 2018 and 2019 responses are below:

Attitudes toward Muslims, Entire Sample:

2016 2018 2019
I think it is okay for Muslims to receive extra screening at the airport 58.7 38.7 37.6
America should cease all immigration from Muslim countries 33.1 20.7 20.2
Muslims are more likely to engage in terrorist activity than non-Muslims 43.1 33.2 29.1
I would be comfortable with a Mosque being built in my neighborhood 51.2 67.1 65.8

There has been a significant decline in support for increased security measures directed at Muslims. In 2016, a majority of Americans supported increased screening for Muslims at airport and one out of three believed America should cease all immigration from Muslim countries. By 2018, only two out of five agree with extra airport screening and support for an immigration ban has fallen to one out of five. This figure was nearly identical in 2019.

Although in 2018 and 2019, a bit more than one out of three Americans still believes that Muslims are more likely to commit terrorist acts than non-Muslims, this is down substantially from the more than 40 percent who agreed with this statement in 2016. And two-thirds of Americans now report that they would be comfortable with a mosque in their neighborhood. Just over half of Americans felt that way in 2016.

Correlates of Islamophobia

Although a large proportion of Americans still express distrust for Muslims, this proportion is smaller in every group we examined when compared to 2016. Below, we compare results for urban and rural Americans, males and females, and political party affiliation

Region

In our 2016 data, differences between those who lived in metropolitan areas and those in rural areas were striking. Those differences remain, but fewer people hold negative views in both groups. In fact, in both metro and non-metro areas, those expressing distrust of Muslims are now in the minority.

Metro 2016 Metro 2018 Metro 2019 Non-Metro 2016 Non-Metro 2018 Non-Metro 2019
I think it is okay for Muslims to receive extra screening at the airport 56.5 36.9 35.6 70.9 46.8 46.2
America should cease all immigration from Muslim countries 31.1 18.2 18.3 44.7 31.7 29.5
Muslims are more likely to engage in terrorist activity than non-Muslims 41.5 31.9 26.9 52.2 39.3 38.5
I would be comfortable with a Mosque being built in my neighborhood 52.5 70.6 67.9 43.8 51.8 57.1

Gender

Both males and females express less distrust of Muslims in the last two years than in 2016. The greatest change, however, has been among men. In 2016, males were more likely to express distrust of Muslims than women. In 2018, opinions are roughly either equal or men express less distrust.

Male 2016 Male 2018 Male 2019 Female 2016 Female 2018 Female 2019
I think it is okay for Muslims to receive extra screening at the airport 61.5 38.4 37.1 55.9 39 38.2
America should cease all immigration from Muslim countries 34.9 17.1 21 31.7 24.1 19.5
Muslims are more likely to engage in terrorist activity than non-Muslims 48.5 34 34.1 38 32.7 24.7
I would be comfortable with a Mosque being built in my neighborhood 49.1 73.4 63.7 53.1 61.5 67.5

Political Party Affiliation

Republicans, Independents, and Democrats all express less distrust of Muslims now than they did in 2016. However, there is still a strong relationship between political party affiliation and anti-Muslim views. Republicans expressed the highest levels, Democrats the lowest, and independents remain in the middle.

It is worth noting that Republicans are now the only group where a majority expresses distrust of Muslims. Even among Republicans, though, there is no longer majority support for a Muslim immigration ban.

GOP

2016

GOP

2018

GOP 2019 Indep-endent 2016 Indep-endent 2018 Indep-endent 2019 Dem

2016

Dem

2018

Dem 2019
I think it is okay for Muslims to receive extra screening at the airport 74.3 70.4 69.5 60.9 33.6 34.6 46.2 19.2 14.9
America should cease all immigration from Muslim countries 53.8 39.1 41 32.7 20.4 20.8 18.3 6.4 2.7
Muslims are more likely to engage in terrorist activity than non-Muslims 61.9 62 56.9 42.6 29.4 27.2 30 14.6 8.1
I would be comfortable with a Mosque being built in my neighborhood 34.2 40.6 38.7 51.3 69.3 68.7 66.3 85.9 85.1

 

Conclusion

Overall, Americans are more accepting of Muslims now than there were in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. The anti-Muslim rhetoric of some in the President’s administration is failing to win over the American people and may even be creating a backlash. A majority of Americans still support a society where religion is a personal, not a governmental, choice.

 

Ann Gordon is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Ludie and David C. Henley Social Science Research Laboratory, Chapman University. L. Edward Day is Associate Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at Chapman University. He is Co-PI of the ongoing Chapman Survey of American Fears. Christopher D. Bader is Professor of Sociology at Chapman University and affiliated with the Institute for Religion, Economics and Culture (IRES). He is Associate Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives (www.theARDA.com) and principal investigator on the Chapman University Survey of American Fears, as well as coauthor of Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture, second edition (also available from NYU Press). Joseph O. Baker is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at East Tennessee State University and a senior research associate for the Association of Religion Data Archives.