Benedict XVI Viewed Favorably But Faulted on Religious Outreach

The Muslim and Mormon religions have gained increasing national visibility in recent years. Yet most Americans say they know little or nothing about either religion’s practices, and large majorities say that their own religion is very different from Islam and the Mormon religion.


Mary Schultz
Communications Manager

A new national survey reveals some notable similarities, as well as major differences, in the ways that Americans view these faiths and their followers. Public impressions of both religions are hazy – 58% say they know little or nothing about Islam’s practices, while 51% have little or no awareness of the precepts and practices of Mormonism. The number of people who say they know little or nothing about Islam has changed very little since 2001.

The latest national survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Aug. 1-18 among 3,002 adults, finds that overall evaluations of Mormons and Muslim Americans are on balance positive: 53% say they have a favorable opinion of Mormons, while an identical percentage views Muslim Americans favorably. As in past surveys, more people have a positive impression of “Muslim Americans” (53%) than of “Muslims” (43%).

By comparison, about three-quarters of those polled have a favorable opinion of Jews and Catholics (76% each) while 60% have a favorable view of evangelical Christians. Atheists are viewed far more negatively, with just 35% holding a positive view and 53% saying they have an unfavorable opinion.

The survey also finds that, two years after Pope Benedict XVI was installed as spiritual leader of the world’s Catholics, the pontiff is viewed favorably by nearly three-quarters (73%) of those familiar enough to offer an opinion. However, significantly fewer people say they have a favorable opinion of the pontiff than expressed positive opinions of Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, during his more than two decades as pope (86% in 1996).

Nearly half (46%) of those who have heard at least a little about Pope Benedict XVI say he is doing only a fair or poor job at promoting good relations with other major religions; just 38% say the pope is doing an excellent or good job in this regard.

Other findings:

  • Public attitudes about Muslims and Islam have grown more negative in recent years. A 45% plurality says Islam is more likely to encourage violence, up from 36% in 2005.

  • Twice as many people use negative words as positive words to describe their impressions of the Muslim religion. The most frequently used negative word to describe Islam is “fanatic”; among the positive terms, “devout” or some variant is mentioned most frequently.

  • A narrow majority of the public (52%) says that Mormonism is a Christian religion, while 31% say that it is not a Christian religion. White evangelical Protestants stand out for their view that the Mormon religion is not Christian.

  • Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints banned polygamy almost a century ago, many Americans still associate the church with this practice. The most commonly used negative words to describe Mormonism are “polygamy,” “bigamy” or some other reference to plural marriage. Among positive words used, “family” – or some variant of the term – is the most frequent response

The survey is for immediate release, and is available online at If you have any questions or need more information, please contact Robbie Mills at 202.419.4564 or