NEW YORK – Americans are more than twice as likely to express prejudice against Muslims than they are against Christians, Jews or Buddhists, a new survey found. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they have little or no knowledge of Islam. Still, a majority dislike the faith.
The analysis, for release Thursday, is from the Gallup World Religion Survey and is part of a project on finding ways to increase understanding between Americans and Muslims.
President Barack Obama and his administration want to improve America's image in the Muslim world. Many analysts who study extremism also say that U.S. Muslims who feel alienated from broader society resist integrating, potentially becoming more vulnerable to radical ideas.
In the poll, just over half of Americans said they felt no prejudice against Muslims. However, 43 percent acknowledged at least "a little" prejudice against Muslims, a significantly higher percentage than for the other four faiths in the survey.
About 18 percent of respondents said they had some level of prejudice against Christians, while the figure was 15 percent toward Jews and 14 percent toward Buddhists.
Asked about knowledge of Islam, 63 percent of Americans say they have "very little" or "none at all." A large majority of respondents believe most Muslims want peace. Yet, 53 percent of Americans say their opinion of the faith is "not too favorable" or "not favorable at all." By comparison, 25 percent of Americans say they have unfavorable views of Judaism, while 7 percent say they have "some" or "a great deal" of prejudice toward Jews.
Personally knowing a Muslim is not linked to a lower level of prejudice, although not knowing a Muslim is related to the greatest level of bias. The authors of the report say this finding underscores the need for better education on what Islam teaches.
"What really seems to impact one's perception of a group much more than knowing an individual is having a positive opinion of that group's distinguishing characteristic, which in this case is their faith," said Dalia Mogahed, senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. "That one person being nice enough could simply be explained as that person being an exception."
Respondents who say they attend religious services more than once a week are significantly more likely to have a favorable view of Muslims. Mogahed said people who are more religious generally consider prejudice a moral evil and often have respect for the devout of other faiths.
Researchers also found a link between prejudice against Jews and Muslims. Americans who acknowledged "a great deal" of bias toward Jews were much more likely to feel the same about Muslims. The survey results could not explain why the two prejudices are linked. Mogahed said bias against both groups should be tracked and studied together to understand the dynamic.
"Groups working against the two types of prejudices should perhaps form a closer alliance," she said.
The report, from the Muslim West Facts Project, a partnership of Gallup and the Coexist Foundation, is based on a random telephone survey of more than 1,000 adults, conducted from Oct. 31 to Nov. 13 of last year. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.