Sinking Perceptions Of Islam

CBS News has released a new poll about Americans’ view of Islam. Here’s the story lede:

Although Americans believe they are better informed about Islam than they were five years ago, a new CBS News poll finds fewer than one in five say their impression of the religion is favorable.

Being well informed and having an unfavorable opinion are not mutually exclusive. Can you imagine this lede to one of the numerous “Bush Has Lowest Approval Ratings Since Hitler” stories?

Although Americans believe they are better informed about President Bush than they were five years ago, a new CBS News poll finds fewer than one in five say their impression of him is favorable.

I certainly can’t.

Forty-five percent of respondents queried April 6 – 9 said they have an unfavorable view of Islam, a rise from 36 percent in February. And the public’s impression of Islam has diminished even more compared with four years ago. In February 2002 — less than six months after the terrorist attacks of September 11 — the country was evenly divided in its impression of Islam.

Poll Sinking Perceptions Of Islam  4/13/06

Thirty-six percent of respondents said they haven’t heard enough or don’t know enough to say either way.

Americans today are also more likely than not to believe that Islam encourages violence, at least in comparison to other religions around the world.

The last few months have seen escalating sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Islamic factions in Iraq and the ongoing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui in the United States. The poll finds 46 percent of Americans believe Islam encourages violence more than other religions, compared with 39 percent of Americans who felt that way two months ago and 35 percent who felt that way in March 2002 (according to a Gallup Poll).

When compared with some other religions practiced in America, positive views of Islam rank below those for mainstream Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Christian fundamentalist faiths. Only Scientology, of all the religions asked about, ranked lower.

This demonstrates an amazing level of tolerance, given the circumstances. In addition to the events mentioned above, we have had international rioting over cartoons that offended Muslims. By contrast, not a single riot by Baptists has occured during the survey period.

There’s also the “South Park” factor to consider. Scientology–which has also had fewer riots and flown into fewer buildings into American buildings than Muslims, even adjusted for size–has gotten a lot of grief over trying to censor the “Come Out of the Closet” episode and Isaac Hayes’ mysterious departure from the show. One wonders if the last two weeks’ episodes, which have skewered the Muslims, will have an effect on these ratings?


Danny Carlton: “Because I would never have guessed that blowing up innocent women and children and sawing off the heads of innocent civilians on the internet could make you unpopular.”

: “I reckon Tom Cruise is a bit nutty but I really thought he might rate as less nutty than say terrorists.”

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, Religion, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. fizzix says:

    “flown fewer buildings”?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Er, “into” fewer buildings. Correction noted.

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    After reading a few books on the history of the Islamic world I too find my opinion less than before.

    Not only did I find the religion more threatening but I also felt the societies who embrace the religion as dangerous and evil. I was thinking perhaps there would be some hope for the conflict between Islam and the West but educating myself left me hopeless.

    Now everyday when I read the news I become less forgiving, less trustful, and less sympathetic to the people who follow that faith.

  4. Herb says:

    If Islam is a faith, it surely is mis-guided. Islam is being slowly exposed as the bastard religion or mankind that has only hate and death as its true belief and foundation.