In the wake of the horrific massacre of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand, we would do well to check in on America’s own level of Islamophobia.
Several years ago here, I criticized a poll Donald Trump used to stoke anti-Muslim fervor — a poll done by Kellyanne Conway, who, at least then, readily acknowledged the president’s misuse of her survey of American Muslims.
But polls can also help illuminate our prejudices — and it’s clear that Muslims face real prejudice in our country — a bias that this president has almost certainly contributed to because it is his supporters who exhibit it most strongly.
Pew measured Americans’ attitudes toward various religious groups on a 100-point scale where higher numbers indicate warmer feelings toward that group and lower numbers colder feelings.
Protestants, Catholics and Jews all scored in the mid 60s. Muslims were below Mormons and atheists at just 48. Republicans expressed particularly hostile attitudes, giving Muslims just 39 on the 100-point scale, while Democrats were at 56 (placing Muslims above Mormons and Evangelical Christians).
More pernicious are the stereotypes Americans employ in evaluating Muslim citizens.
The Voter Study Group asked what percentage of Muslim and of Christian Americans were described by various phrases.
On average, respondents said just half of Muslims “have respect for American ideals and laws” and that 41 percent of American Muslims are “sympathetic to terrorists.”
Again, significant partisan differences emerged. Democrats believe that more than two thirds of U.S. Muslims respect American ideals, compared with Republicans, who say 36 percent hold that view.
Republicans also say more than half of American Muslims are sympathetic to terrorists and 46 percent are willing to commit acts of terrorism.
There is a tendency not just to denigrate the “out” group, not just to dislike Muslims, but to stigmatize them as an ideological and even physical danger.
It is therefore, perhaps not surprising, though it is certainly frightening that, in our democracy 12 percent of Democrats, 16 percent of independents, and 21 percent of Republicans would deny Muslims who are U.S. citizens the right to vote.
At least Republicans are aware of their bias. Half of Republicans told Gallup they had “a great deal” of prejudice toward Muslims and another 34 percent said they harbored “some.”
A study focusing on the electability of Muslims took another tack, experimentally manipulating the information voters had about candidates.
Not surprisingly, a candidate’s party was far and away the most important vote determining information.
But, while Democrats were no less willing to vote for a Muslim Democrat, Republicans were meaningfully less likely to favor a Muslim Republican, again suggesting anti-Muslim prejudice is more salient among Republicans.
Of course public opinion data is far from the only indicator of anti-Muslim bigotry.
Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro, who is supported by President Trump, questioned whether a congresswoman who wears a hijab could be loyal to the United States.
Indeed, Pirro stated that adherence to Islamic law in instances such as dress is “antithetical” to the Constitution.
Would Pirro consider a Jewish man who wears a kippah on his head in accordance with Jewish law an enemy of the Constitution?
FBI data suggests that anti-Muslim hate crimes remain near the highest levels recorded.
New Zealand is not the only country with an Islamophobia problem. We’ve got one right here at home.
While bigotry crosses party lines, this particular prejudice seems disproportionately concentrated among Republicans.
That leaves our president a choice: He can continue fanning the flames here in America until we too face a disastrous explosion of hate, or he can help reduce the stereotyping, calm the tensions and lower the flames.
As I write these words, I fear I know what his choice will be, and I could not be sadder about it.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for more than 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.