Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 1996, p.48

Public Opinion

Survey Finds U.S. Muslims Liberal on Public Issues, Conservative On Family Values

By Richard H. Curtiss

A recent public opinion survey of American Muslims by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, DC indicates that America’s 6 to 8 million Muslims share a mixture of conservative and liberal attitudes that make them potentially receptive to political candidates from either major party. That conclusion is reinforced by the answers on party preferences provided by the Muslim respondents themselves.

The sampling of opinions of 259 randomly selected members of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), one of the America’s largest Islamic membership groups, revealed that 68 percent were registered to vote. Thirty percent were registered Democrats, 28 percent were registered Republicans, 30 percent described themselves as not registered, members of other political parties or independent, and 12 percent were not sure of their status.

The CAIR-commissioned survey by a professional polling firm, the John Zogby Group of West Hartford, NY, revealed that fewer than half of the poll respondents felt that they had ever suffered discrimination. Asked, “Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your religious background anywhere in the United States?” 58 percent said no, 41 percent said yes, and 1 percent were not sure.

In presenting the poll results at a news conference at the National Press Club on Aug. 26, Dr. Mohammad Nimr of the CAIR Washington headquarters staff outlined the demographic profile of the respondents, whose names were drawn at random from the membership rolls of ISNA, an organization with a religious rather than a political agenda. Respondents were 51 percent female and 49 percent male. Forty-four percent were between the ages of 30 to 49, with 27 percent older than 49 and 29 percent younger (but all above the age of 18).

Asked which “best represents your or your ancestors’ main country of origin,” 49 percent named the Indian subcontinent, 24 percent named Arab countries, 8 percent named Africa and 19 percent picked “other.” Educationally, respondents were well above the general American average, with 68 percent college graduates or higher, 21 percent with some college, 8 percent high school graduates, and only 3 percent with less than a high school education.

Sixty-four percent of the respondents were in professional, white-collar or entrepreneurial positions, 3 percent in blue-collar occupations and 33 percent were students. Fifty-four percent had family incomes above $50,000, 36 percent had family incomes between $20,000 and $49,000, and only 11 percent had family incomes of less than $20,000. Seventy-three percent were married, 71 percent had children, and 76 percent attend a mosque at least weekly. Sixty-nine percent of their children were in public schools.

Answers to the survey provided a profile of Muslim attitudes and concerns in the U.S. Seventy-eight favored voluntary prayer in a special room at school (as opposed to 10 percent for banning prayer and 3 percent for teacher-led prayer).

Forty-three percent opposed cutting welfare to balance the national budget, 39 percent favored this, and 18 percent were not sure. A much clearer majority of 63 percent favored a tax increase on the wealthy to meet the needs of the poor.

Sixty-one percent opposed reducing the number of people allowed to immigrate legally into the United States, 28 percent favored a reduction, and 11 percent were not sure.

In an effort to identify American Muslim personal concerns, respondents were asked, “Have you ever discussed with an employer or a teacher any matter that relates to the religious practices of yourself or any of your children?” Sixty-one percent answered “yes.”

Asked to describe these matters specifically, 73 percent cited religious accommodation, 3 percent cited rights violations, and 21 percent cited promoting increasing understanding of Islam.

Under the religious accommodation category, 7 percent cited prayer, 15 percent cited holidays, 13 percent cited diet, 7 percent cited dress, and 4 percent cited fasting. Some of the holiday concerns cited by respondents included “not being counted absent on Muslim holidays,” “exams during holidays,” and “celebrating Christian holidays in the classroom.”

In the promoting understanding category, respondents cited “inaccurate information about Islam in school textbooks” and “educating about Muslim beliefs and significance of practices.

To ascertain the respondents’ perception of host community reactions to their concerns, the poll takers asked, “In your view which of the following Americans are more responsive to religious minority rights?”

The answers: Practicing Christians 31 percent, non-practicing Christians 12 percent, neither 28 percent, other 19 percent, not sure/no opinion 10 percent.

To measure perceptions of party responsiveness to minority rights, the poll takers asked, “In your view, which of the following parties is more responsive to the needs of minority religions?” Answers: Democratic 42 percent, Republican 11 percent, Libertarian 7 percent, other 26 percent, not sure/no opinion 14 percent.

Conclusions, prepared by the polling firm, are worth reading in full by all Americans, and particularly political party activists. They read:

“Findings of the survey paint a picture of the average American Muslim as a young, highly educated professional who lives in a middle-class, family-oriented household. Contrary to long-held stereotypes, more than half of Muslim women interviewed work outside their homes, mainly in professional careers. Also, 8 percent of these women own or manage businesses. Less than half of the women work at home.

“More Muslims identify with the Democratic Party and its constituencies. Still, considering that Muslims are a minority grouping, there is a surprisingly large segment that identify with the Republican party. This finding stands in contrast to how other minority groupings view their party affiliation. There is an overwhelming majority among Black, Hispanic and Jewish communities who identify with the Democratic Party. The Republican Party has attracted only small portions of these minority groupings. This is perhaps due to the largely conservative inclinations among Muslims on matters usually described as family-value issues.

“Still, the survey shows that there is overwhelming evidence that issues of minority rights and religious tolerance stand out as primary concerns for the respondents. On these issues Muslims find themselves in natural alliance with liberal Americans. But no matter how Muslim leaders draw their alliances, they face the formidable challenge of mobilizing their constituency.”