When it comes to the important issues in American politics, voters often have 3 different sets of opinions: one for general questions, one for specific questions, and one for questions about actions of their President.
Take, for example, American attitudes, in general, towards Muslims and their religion, Islam. National polls taken by our guest today, Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland suggest a consistent movement towards tolerance and approval over the past year and a half, from general approval of Muslims among 53% of all Americans in November of 2015 to 70% in October 2016, notwithstanding such intervening influences as the terrible terrorist attack on the gay dance club in Orlando, Florida and the harshly anti-Muslim election campaign on Donald Trump.
This rising curve of comity is similar among Democrats and Independents, and even, at a much lower level, among Republicans. By October 2016, 81% of Democrats, 79% of Independents and 57% of Republicans said they had favorable opinions of Muslims.
This tolerance bumps up against a partisan divide when it comes to approval of Islam. For both Democrats and Independents, the year covered by 4 different polls showed constant growth in approval ratings, winding up last October with 66% of Democrats and 59% of Independents saying they approved of the religion Islam. Among Republicans the figure was 29% and showed virtually no movement at all over the 11 months between samplings.
Does this reflect firmness among pro-Israeli Republicans or does it reflect the movement of Zionist Jews from the Democrats to the GOP?
Still this was enough to bring the national figure for approval to 49%, the highest number since the 9/11 attacks.
A different poll, done in late January 2017, by the IPSOS polling group for the Reuters news agency asked more specific questions, with introduced less positive results on Muslim tolerance, but showed the same partisan divide.
Asked whether a temporary ban on immigration was necessary for American security, the country was evenly divided…43% said yes, 44% said no. Independents were a little more doubtful, thumbing down the idea of restrictions 42% to 39…but the disagreement between partisans was sharp: 71% of Democrats said immigration limitations were unnecessary, while 73% of Republicans said they were needed.
But when the same group was polled on President Donald Trump’s Executive Order banning all refugees, and applicants from 7 Muslim-majority nations from entry into the US for 90 to 120 days, the overall result was 48% approved and 41% disapproved.
82% of Republicans lined up with their Party’s candidate, while 70% of Democrats disagreed. Independents went along with the President 42% to 36, what was striking here was the almost doubling among Independents who said they weren’t sure.
The Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t do polls. It does do surveys, counting organized hate groups and recorded hate crimes. Their research shows, whatever ambiguities there might be in overall, mainstream opinions about Muslims and tolerance, there’s no question that the election of Donald Trump has produced sharp increases in hate groups, especially anti-Muslim hate groups, and in what the Center calls “bias-related incidents.” In the first 34 days following Trump’s November election, there were more than 1000 of these…more than 300 of them aimed specifically at Muslims, and of them, “37% directly referenced either President-elect Trump, his campaign slogans, or his infamous remarks about sexual assault. Just 26 were anti-Trump, with six of those explicitly anti-white.”
So what do these numbers tell us about American attitudes today toward Muslims and Islam?
Shibley Telhami is the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, College Park, and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Before coming to the University of Maryland, he taught at several universities, including Cornell University, the Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, Princeton University, Columbia University, Swarthmore College, and the University of California at Berkeley.
Professor Telhami has also been active in the foreign policy arena. He has served as Advisor to the US Mission to the UN (1990-91), as advisor to former Congressman Lee Hamilton, more recently as senior advisor to George Mitchell, President Obama’s United States Special Envoy for Middle East Peace (2009-2011). He has contributed to The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times and regularly appears on national and international radio and television