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Hamilton College Muslim America Poll


ANALYSIS


By Dennis Gilbert
Professor of Sociology, Hamilton College

The Hamilton College Muslim America Poll is one of the few recent surveys of the Muslim population in the United States. Over 500 Muslims, most of them U.S. citizens, were contacted by telephone in late April 2002 and polled regarding the war on terrorism, related foreign policy issues, and their own experiences of discrimination and harassment since September 11. The poll was designed and analyzed by the Hamilton researchers.  It was funded by Hamilton?s Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center and administered by the polling firm Zogby International. The survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percent.

MUSLIM AMERICA

The Hamilton poll found an American Muslim population that is largely foreign born, culturally diverse, relatively young, highly educated, prosperous, family oriented, religiously observant, and inclined toward the Democratic Party.

Seventy percent of respondents were born abroad, though ninety percent are American citizens. (In this report "American Muslims" refers to the entire national sample, citizen and non-citizen.) Only 38 percent of Muslims in the U.S. are over 45 years old, compared to 52 percent of American adults. Nearly 70 percent of American Muslims over 25 have completed a college education, an achievement they share with just 26 percent their American peers.  Three quarters of Muslim adults, but only half of all U.S. adults are married.

Asked to rate the importance of Islam in their lives, 70 percent chose the top end of a 10-point scale, "extremely important."  Eighty percent say they pray daily. Half observe the five daily prayers required of Muslims.  Thirty-eight percent of   women wear the hair-covering hijab daily or almost daily.  With regard to party politics, 36 percent consider themselves Democrats, 18 percent Republicans. 

American Muslims reflect the variety of Islamic cultures across the world.  One in three respondents to the Hamilton poll was born in an Arabic-speaking country; one in six in Pakistan.  Many are African-Americans. Some are black Africans. Six percent are American-born and white. But this impressive cultural diversity appears to have little effect on the opinions of American Muslims. On the issues explored by the poll, differences by ethnicity, citizenship, or for that matter, age and gender, were modest.
 

DISCRIMINATION AND HARASSMENT

The Hamilton Muslim America Poll found high levels of anti-Muslim discrimination and harassment, especially since September 11.  However, the poll also revealed that Muslims have encountered widespread expressions of support from non-Muslim Americans.

The poll asked American Muslims about incidents of "anti-Muslim discrimination, harassment, verbal abuse, or physical attack" directed against "Muslims, Muslim-owned businesses or Islamic institutions" in their communities.
 

  • Sixty percent report anti-Muslim incidents in their communities since 9-11.  Only 21 percent recall earlier incidents.
  • About half personally know someone who has been victimized since 9-11.
  • One in four respondents have themselves been victims since 9-11.

The incidents reported typically involve "dirty looks," petty harassment, or verbal abuse (sometimes with a menacing edge) in public places. (Airport incidents are surprisingly rare.) A man cuts in front of a Muslim college student, her head covered with a hijab, in a grocery checkout line.  He says, "Let Osama's clan wait."  A mother and her son are shoved by a woman as they emerge from a bank. "Can't you see [us]?" she asks. "I see animals" is the reply. Strangers pull up in front of a Muslim home and scream abuse.  A Muslim girl is suspended from school; legal action is required to reinstate her.  Another is told she will be blown up. 

Although the majority of American Muslims or people they know have had such experiences, they do not generally perceive other Americans as hostile.  Seventy percent of respondents to the Hamilton poll describe Americans as "friendly" or at least "neutral" toward Muslims in the United States. One reason may be the support they have received from Americans who do not share the attitudes of a bigoted minority. Many respondents say that non-Muslim religious leaders and other prominent people in their communities have publicly condemned anti-Muslim abuses.  Seventy percent of American Muslims report that non-Muslims have "personally conveyed support" to them since 9-11. 
 

REACTIONS TO 9-11 AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY

 American Muslims appear divided and conflicted in their reactions to the September attacks and their aftermath.  Asked if Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda network was responsible for the attacks, 44 percent offer no opinion; only a third blamed Al Qaeda.  Forty percent describe the U.S. worldwide response to 9-11 as a "war on terrorism," but a third see it as a "war on Islam." Half believe that U.S. military action in Afghanistan was justified, 43 percent disagree.

 

American Muslims are more unified in their reactions to the widespread questioning and detentions of Muslims in the U.S. by Federal authorities since 9-11: Nearly two-thirds describe these actions as  "an unwarranted abuse of civil liberties." Only 20 percent say they are "necessary to protect the country from a terrorist threat." 

American Muslims share a similar consensus with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- probably reinforced, during the polling period, by the Israeli invasion of Palestinian territories and the Bush administration's wavering efforts to mediate.   Seventy-five percent "strongly agree" with the statement "the U.S. has always sided with the Israelis against the Palestinians."   Sixty percent reject the idea that the Bush administration "is trying to bring about a fair peace between Palestinians and Israelis."

With regard to another preoccupation of American foreign policy, the Iraqi regime, American Muslims are generally sympathetic to the Iraqis but not their leader.  Almost 70 percent believe that U.S. policy "is causing undue suffering for the Iraqi people."  Nonetheless, by a modest margin (47 to 40 percent), they agree that "the U.S. should try to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power."
 

COMPARISONS WITH OTHER AMERICANS AND MUSLIMS ABROAD

The Hamilton poll reveals a pattern of opinion that distinguishes American Muslims from other Americans, but also separates them from Muslims abroad. 

With regard to responsibility for the September 11 attacks, for example, American Muslims appear both more divided and more likely to blame Al Qaeda than are Muslims elsewhere.  Thirty four percent of American Muslims blame Al Qaeda; a larger group has no opinion. In contrast, only 18 percent of respondents to a CNN/Gallup survey of nine Muslim countries thought that Arabs (a category which presumably would include Al Qaeda operatives) carried out the attacks.  On the other hand, the major U.S. polling organizations have not even bothered to question the general population about this issue. Within days of the September attacks, American pollsters began to ask questions regarding U.S. policy that assumed, probably correctly, that the few Americans doubted the official assignment of blame to Bin Laden and his organization. 

American Muslims, the Hamilton poll confirms, see the U.S. policy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one-sided.  Most Americans reject this characterization of current U.S. policy, according to a Newsweek poll released last month.  At the same time, recent national polls have repeatedly shown that Americans are, by wide margins, more sympathetic to the Israelis than the Palestinians -- an attitude that U.S policy makers find hard to ignore. 

American Muslims are closer to general American opinion and further from worldwide Muslim opinion on U.S. action in Afghanistan.  Fifty-one percent of the American Muslims polled by Hamilton, close to 90 percent of Americans in recent U.S. polls, but only 9 percent of Muslims in the CNN international survey regard U.S. military action in Afghanistan as justified.

Reports from the Middle East suggest that U.S. threats against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq are highly unpopular.  In contrast, Americans in recent U.S. polls support his removal from power, as do American Muslims, but by a much smaller margin. 

With the exception of the Palestinian question, American Muslims appear much more divided and ambivalent about foreign policy issues than are other Americans or Muslims abroad. Often their mixed opinions and sympathies suggest a population pulled between two worlds.


CONDUCTING THE MUSLIM AMERICA POLL

The Hamilton College Muslim America Poll is one in a series of national surveys conducted by Hamilton students and faculty in collaboration with the polling firm Zogby International.  Previous polls have covered issues including the racial attitudes of young adults (1999), youth and guns (2000), and gay issues (2001).  Like most of the previous Hamilton surveys, the Muslim America poll was wholly funded by Hamilton's Levitt Public Affairs Center. 

The poll was designed and analyzed by Hamilton Sociology Professor Dennis Gilbert and Hamilton College students. The Hamilton research team wrote the questionnaire. A combined total of 550 calls were completed for a small pilot poll and the final poll of 521 American Muslims over the age of 18. All the pilot calls and 117 of the final calls were made by the Hamilton students at Zogby International facilities, under the supervision of Zogby personnel.   Calls for the final survey were made between April 11 and 30.

The 521-call final survey had a margin of sampling error of approximately plus or minus 5 percent. Zogby International employed a sampling technique that has been used successfully in several previous surveys. A call list was compiled by software that identifies common Muslim names in telephone listings. This approach probably undersamples African-American Muslims and converts, who are less likely to have typically Muslim names. For cultural reasons, females are less likely to participate in surveys of Muslim populations. The original sample was reweighted to correct for a 60/40 split between men and women. The reweighting had little affect on the final results (under 2 percent on opinion questions).

The Hamilton researchers are grateful for advice on the Muslim America questionnaire from Zahid Bukhari (Georgetown University), Mohamed Nimer (Council on American-Islamic Relations), Myra Hamid (Hamilton '02), and Shahzada Ahmad (Hamilton '01).