Most In Poll Back Outreach to Muslims

April 6, 2009

Author: Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta

Source: The Washington Post

Most Americans think President Obama's pledge to "seek a new way forward" with the Muslim world is an important goal, even as nearly half hold negative views about Islam and a sizable number say that even mainstream adherents to the religion encourage violence against non-Muslims, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

There is still a broad lack of familiarity with the world's second-largest religion -- 55 percent of those polled said they are without a basic understanding of the teachings and beliefs of Islam, and most said they do not know anyone who is Muslim. While awareness has increased in recent years, underlying views have not improved.

About half, 48 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Islam, the highest in polls since late 2001. Nearly three in 10, or 29 percent, said they see mainstream Islam as advocating violence against non-Muslims; although more, 58 percent, said it is a peaceful religion.

Muslims make up about 1 percent of all U.S. adults.

Majorities of Americans with sympathetic and unsympathetic views about Islam said it is important for the president to try to improve U.S. relations with Muslim nations, with those holding more positive views much more likely to call those moves "very important." In his inaugural address, Obama extended an offer to leaders of unfriendly Muslim nations that the United States "will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Overall, nearly two-thirds said Obama, who arrived yesterday in Ankara, Turkey, will handle the diplomatic mission "about right." Nearly a quarter, though, said he will probably "go too far." Nine percent said it is more likely he will not go far enough.