Judeo-Christian Religions Still Favored

Despite higher favorability for Muslim-Americans, ratings for this group are still lower than those of the major Judeo-Christian religions. Three-quarters of Americans give a favorable rating to Catholics, Protestants and Jews (78%, 77% and 75%, respectively).

Atheists continue to receive much lower favorability ratings than the major religions ­ just 32% view atheists positively, while about half (49%) rate them unfavorably. But the proportion viewing atheists unfavorably has declined from 57% in March.

The rise in favorability for Muslim-Americans has occurred among all religious groups. But differences in age and education are significant factors, with better-educated and younger people holding more favorable opinions toward Muslim-Americans. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of college graduates have positive impressions of this group, compared with 51% of those with a high school degree or less. About six-in-ten A
mericans (62%) under age 30 have favorable opinions of Muslim-Americans compared with just under half (48%) of people age 65 and over.

Few Familiar With Islam

Islam remains largely unknown to most Americans, especially older and less-educated people. While 44% of those under age 30 say they know at least something about the Islamic faith, just 27% of those 65 and older say this. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) college graduates feel they know at least something about Islam, compared with 42% of those with some college education, and 25% of those who never attended college.

Half of respondents living in the East and 43% of those in the West say they know a great deal or something about Islamic beliefs and practices, compared with a third of those in the Midwest and three-in-ten of those in the South. And more Republicans than Democrats say they are at least somewhat familiar with the Muslim faith (45% to 34%).

Familiarity with Islam is generally associated with more positive views of Muslim-Americans, even when the respondent’s education and age are taken into account. Roughly three-quarters (73%) of those who feel knowledgeable about Islam say they have a favorable view of Muslim-Americans, compared with just over half (53%) of those who say they know little or nothing about the Muslim faith. Moreover, people who say they know at least something about Islam are more than twice as likely (48% to 21%) to see Islam as having a lot in common with their own religious beliefs ­ a pattern, again, which holds up even among respondents of similar generations and educational backgrounds.

College Grads See Similarities

Among Americans who have a religious preference, 52% feel Islamic beliefs are very different from their own religious beliefs, while roughly three-in-ten (31%) think Islam and their own religion have a lot in common. Both religious denomination and education are strongly related to these views.

Roughly half (51%) of college graduates see more similarities than differences between Islam and their own religion, with 38% disagreeing. By comparison, just 21% of those who never attended college think Islam has a lot in common with their own faith, while 58% think it is very different. Among white Protestants who consider themselves born-again or evangelical, 62% believe their religion is very different from Islam, while only 44% of those who are not evangelicals say this.

Interestingly, while young people are more likely to feel that they know something about the Islamic faith, they are just as likely as their elders to think their own religion is very different from the Islamic faith. And, despite a historically strong Muslim movement within the African-American community, non-Muslim African-Americans are at least as likely as whites to think Islam is very different from their own religion.

Terrorists’ Motives

For the most part, Americans believe the terrorists were primarily driven by political motives, although a substantial minority sees their religious beliefs as a factor. But here again, familiarity with the Muslim faith has an influence on attitudes.

Those who say they are most familiar with Islam are among the least likely to say they see a religious motivation to the attacks. Fewer than one-in-four (24%) of those who say they know at least something about the Muslim faith say religious beliefs alone were behind the attacks, while more than half (51%) say it was mostly political. By comparison, a third of those who say they know little or nothing about Islam think the attacks were motivated primarily by religious beliefs.

War and Morality

To test the public’s views on the morality of using military force, one group of respondents was asked whether war is sometimes or never morally justified. Better than eight-in-ten (83%) say that it is sometimes warranted, which nearly mirrors the current level of support for the conflict in Afghanistan (85%). When another group was asked whether war is often or never morally justified, 64% chose the former and 24% said war is never morally justified.

The war in Afghanistan is the exception that some who have moral objections to war are willing to allow. Even among those who say that war is never justified, more than half (55%) support the current war on terrorism.

Women, Democrats and young adults are more likely to object to war under any circumstances. And 35% of non-whites say that war is never justified, compared with two-in-ten whites (21%).

Religious differences have only a limited influence on attitudes toward war­ with the exception of the differences among Protestants. The greatest religious divide on this issue is between white evangelical Protestants (77% say war is “often” justified) and mainline Protestants, who show the lowest support for war of any religious grouping (64%).

When evaluating how the United States wages war, Americans are more concerned that the U.S. doesn’t push hard enough to achieve military victory (56%) than worry about civilian casualties (25%). However, a familiar pattern emerges when considering this aspect of war. Women are more concerned about civilian casualties than are men (31% women vs. 19% men), while men are more concerned that the U.S. doesn’t push hard for military victory (68% men, 45% women).

Civilian casualties are a greater concern for young adults (39% of those under 30), minorities, less-affluent Americans, Democrats, and those on the East Coast. But Americans in rural areas are particularly concerned that the U.S. doesn’t push hard enough to achieve military victory. Among religious groups, those who are most likely to be concerned about civilian casualties are Catholics and seculars (those who report no religious affiliation).

Role of Religious Media

Nearly a quarter (24%) of Americans say they have at least sometimes been getting information about terrorist attacks or the war on terrorism from religious radio or TV shows, with 11% saying they regularly use these sources. Older Americans are far more likely to refer to religious media sources than are younger people ­ fully 37% of those age 65 and older say they regularly or sometimes gain information from these sources, compared with just 16% of those under age 30.

There are also significant racial and religious gaps in the use of religious media sources. Overall, 21% of whites say they have been regularly or sometimes getting information from religious radio or TV shows, compared with 42% of African-Americans. But among whites, 44% of evangelical Protestants have been learning about the current crisis from religious media sources, compared with 11% of mainline Protestants, 14% of Catholics, and just 6% of seculars.