August 30, 2011

Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism

Section 5: Political Opinions and Social Values

Compared with the general public, fewer Muslim Americans say they are politically conservative, and a greater number say they prefer a bigger government that provides more services.

Muslim Americans align strongly with the Democratic Party and voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in the 2008 election. On social issues, Muslim Americans are less accepting of homosexuality than is the general public, and they are slightly more conservative on gender roles.

Party Affiliation and Views of Obama

A sizable majority of Muslim Americans identify with the Democratic Party. Seven-in-ten either describe themselves as Democratic (46%) or say they lean Democratic (24%). Far fewer say they are Republicans (6%) or lean to the GOP (5%). About two-in-ten (19%) say they are independent and do not lean toward either party.

Those numbers have changed only slightly since 2007, when 63% of Muslim Americans said they were Democrats (37%) or leaned Democratic (26%). At that point, about one-in-ten said they were Republicans (7%) or leaned Republican (4%). About a quarter (26%) did not lean toward either party.

As in 2007, the general population is more evenly divided. Nearly half (48%) say they are Democrats (33%) or lean Democratic (15%), while 40% say they are either Republicans (24%) or lean Republican (16%). An additional 12% say they are independents who do not lean toward either party.
Nearly four-in-ten Muslim Americans (38%) describe their political views as moderate, matching the number that said this in 2007. A quarter of U.S. Muslims (25%) say they are conservative and 27% say they are liberal. In the general public, about as many describe themselves as conservative (38%) as moderate 36%, while 22% say they are liberal.

In the general public, conservatives tend to identify with the Republican Party or lean Republican, while liberals tend to be Democrats or lean Democratic. Among Muslim Americans, about two-thirds of those who describe themselves as conservatives (68%) say they either belong to the Democratic Party or lean Democratic. That rises to 78% among those who describe themselves as liberal.

Muslim Americans who voted in the 2008 election overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama. About nine-in-ten (92%) say they voted for Obama, while just 4% say they voted for John McCain.

Muslim Americans also overwhelmingly approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president. Three quarters (76%) approve of Obama’s job performance, while 14% disapprove. The public as a whole in June was divided: 46% approved and 45% disapproved of Obama’s performance.

In 2007, about seven-in-ten Muslim Americans (69%) disapproved of George W. Bush’s job performance. Just 15% approved. At this point, during Bush’s second term in office, his approval rating was declining among the public: 35% approved of his job performance and 57% disapproved.

Muslim Americans clearly see a friend in Obama, who came into office in 2009 pledging to improve relations with the Muslim world. About two-thirds (64%) say the president is generally friendly toward Muslim Americans. Just 4% see him as unfriendly to Muslim Americans, while 27% see him as neutral.

Nearly half (46%) say the Democratic Party is generally friendly toward Muslim Americans, while 7% say it is unfriendly. About a third (35%) see it as neutral. On the other hand, by a three-to-one margin (48% to 15%) more Muslim Americans see the Republican Party as unfriendly than friendly toward Muslim Americans. About one-in-five (21%) see the party as neutral toward Muslim Americans.

While a majority of Muslim Americans correctly say that Obama is a Christian (55%), one-in-ten (10%) say they think the president is a Muslim. About a third (33%) say they do not know or refused to answer. Last August, 18% of the general public said they thought Obama is a Muslim, while 34% correctly said he is a Christian. Fully 45% said they did not know or refused to answer.

Among the public as a whole, perceptions of Obama’s religion appear tied to attitudes about the president. Those who disapproved of Obama’s performance at that point were three times as likely as those who approved to say they thought Obama was a Muslim (30% vs. 10%). That is not the case among Muslim Americans; 11% of those who approve of Obama’s performance say they think he is Muslim, while 3% of those who disapprove say the same.

Among Muslim Americans, the less educated and least affluent are more likely to say they think Obama is a Muslim. For example, 15% of those with a high school education or less say they think the president is a Muslim. That drops to 2% among those with at least a college degree. Nearly four-in-ten (37%) among the least educated group say they do not know, compared with 22% among the college graduates.

Voting Participation and Civic Engagement

Muslim Americans continue to be somewhat less engaged in several key elements of the political process than the public as a whole. Two-thirds of Muslims who are U.S. citizens say they are certain they are registered to vote (66%). Among the general public, 79% say they are definitely registered to vote. Those numbers are little changed from 2007.

Because the general public question was asked of all U.S. residents, it includes some non-citizens. About 19% of the Muslims currently in the U.S. are not citizens and therefore cannot register to vote. Looking at all Muslims included in the new survey – including those who are U.S. residents but not citizens – 53% say they are absolutely certain they are registered to vote.

Nearly two-thirds of Muslim American citizens (64%) say they voted in the 2008 presidential election, compared with three-quarters of the general public (76%) who say they voted.

Just as with the population as whole, young people are the least likely age group to be registered to vote among Muslim American citizens. Slightly more than half (55%) say they are certain they are registered. That jumps to 73% among those ages 40 to 54 and 79% among those ages 55 and older.

Those with higher family incomes are more likely than those at the lower end of the scale to say they are registered. Three-quarters of those with family incomes of $75,000 or more (78%) say they are certain they are registered, compared with 60% among those with incomes of less than $30,000.

Overall, there is no difference in registration rates between Muslim citizens born in the U.S. and those who were born elsewhere (66% and 67%, respectively). But those who arrived before 1990 are more likely than those who immigrated more recently to be certain they are registered (76% vs. 62%).

Muslim Americans also are slightly less attentive to government and politics than the public as a whole. Seven-in-ten (70%) say they follow what is going on in government and public affairs most of the time (37%) or some of the time (33%). Among the general public, about eight-in-ten (79%) say this, with fully half (50%) saying they follow public affairs most of the time.

Muslim Americans are about as likely as the public as a whole to say they have worked with other people in their neighborhood over the past year to fix a problem or improve a condition in their community. Among Muslims, 33% say they have done this and 65% say they have not. Among the general public, 38% say they have done this and 62% say they have not.

Role of Government

Most Muslim Americans continue to say they would rather have a bigger government with more services than a smaller one with fewer services. Currently, 68% say they would prefer a larger and more activist government, about the same as the 70% that said this in 2007. In both Muslim American surveys, 21% favored a smaller government that provides fewer services.

Among the general public, the balance tilts toward a smaller government with fewer services. Half (50%) say they would prefer this, while 42% prefer a more activist government. Those numbers also have shifted only slightly since 2007.

Homosexuality and Gender Issues

Muslim Americans hold more conservative views than the general public about gays and lesbians. However, they have become more accepting of homosexuality since 2007.

Today, Muslim Americans are more divided on this question: 39% say homosexuality should be accepted, while 45% say it should be discouraged. Four years ago, far more said homosexuality should be discouraged (61%) than accepted (27%).

The broader public has become more accepting of homosexuality as well. Currently, 58% say homosexuality should be accepted, while 33% say it should be discouraged. In 2006, about half (51%) said homosexuality should be accepted, while 38% said it should be discouraged.

The changes since 2007 are evident across most demographic groups of Muslim Americans. One exception, though, is older Muslim Americans. Four years ago, 22% of this group said homosexuality should be accepted. Today, 21% say this. The next oldest age group – those 40 to 54 – are almost evenly divided (43% say homosexuality should be accepted; 47% say it should be discouraged). Four years ago, 69% of this group said homosexuality should be discouraged.

Acceptance of homosexuality has risen significantly among those with high levels of religious commitment (from 16% in 2007 to 30% today) as well as those with medium levels of religious commitment (from 21% in 2007 to 37% today). However, those who express a low level of religious commitment continue to be more accepting (57%) than those with a high religious commitment (30%). Four years ago, 47% of those with low religious commitment said homosexuality should be accepted, compared with 16% among those who express a high commitment.

Whether Muslim Americans were born in the U.S. or immigrated here seems to make little difference in views toward homosexuality. Currently, 41% of the native born say homosexuality should be accepted, about the same as the 38% of foreign born who say this. In both cases, the numbers are up since 2007 (30% among the native born, 26% among the foreign born).

Muslim Americans show strong support for allowing women to join the workforce. Nine-in-ten either completely (72%) or mostly agree (18%) that women should be able to work outside the home. Among the U.S. general public, almost all either completely (81%) or mostly (16%) agree with this.

Attitudes among Muslim Americans are similar to attitudes among Muslims in Lebanon and Turkey. But support for women working outside the home is considerably smaller in many other Muslim nations. For example, in Egypt, only about six-in-ten say they either completely agree (23%) or mostly agree (39%) that women should be allowed to work outside the home. About four-in-ten (39%) disagree.

Nearly seven-in-ten U.S. Muslims (68%) say gender makes no difference in the quality of political leaders. Still, about a quarter (27%) say men make better political leaders. Very few (4%) say women make better leaders. There are only slight differences in views on this between men and women and among various age groups.

Among the U.S. public, 72% say gender does not determine who will be the better political leader. About one-in-ten each say men (12%) or women (13%) make better leaders.

Responses to a similar question asked in Muslim countries in 2007 show few populations as willing to say that gender makes no difference in the quality of political leaders. Muslims in Morocco proved most similar: 65% said that men and women make equally good political leaders. About two-in-ten (21%) said men generally make better leaders and 5% said women make better leaders. At the other end of the spectrum, 64% of Muslims in the Palestinian territories and 60% in Nigeria said that men generally make better leaders than women. About a third in Nigeria (34%) said they make equally good leaders. Just 16% said this in the Palestinian territories.

Science and Religion

Nearly six-in-ten Muslim Americans (59%) say they do not think there is generally a conflict between science and religion. Almost four-in-ten (37%) think there is. The balance among the general public is reversed: 59% say they do see a conflict between science and religion; 37% say they do not.

Muslims born in the United States are more evenly divided than those born abroad. Among those born here, 48% say they think there is a conflict and the same number say there is not. Among the foreign born, 64% say they see no conflict, while 32% say they do.

On the question of evolution, Muslim Americans are divided: 45% say that humans and other living things have evolved over time while 44% say humans and other living things have always existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

Among the general public, the balance tilts more toward evolution. About half (52%) say humans and other livings things have evolved over time, while 40% say these beings have always existed in their present form.

Views of Immigrants

Fully seven-in-ten Muslim Americans (71%) say that immigrants “strengthen the U.S. because of their hard work and talents.” Just 22% think that immigrants “are a burden on the U.S. because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” The general public expresses far less positive views regarding the impact of immigrants: 45% say they strengthen the country, while 44% see immigrants as a burden. Opinions among both Muslim Americans and the public are little changed from 2006-2007. More foreign-born Muslim Americans (76%) than those born in the United States (64%) say that immigrants strengthen the United States.