WASHINGTON — Most Americans say they know little to nothing about the practices of Islam and Mormonism but say their own religious beliefs have little in common with either of these faiths, according to a national survey released Tuesday.
Forty-five percent of those polled said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers. Nearly 1 in 3 respondents say Mormonism is not a Christian religion, the report said.
The survey of 3,002 Americans was conducted last month by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Although 58% of respondents said they knew little or nothing about Islamic practices, 70% of non-Muslims said Islam was very different from their own religious beliefs.
Pew Forum senior fellow John Green said that respondents’ knowledge of Islam might be even lower than the survey results suggested. Respondents “tend to overestimate their own knowledge, so these figures may well underestimate their lack of knowledge,” he said.
The survey found that public attitudes toward Muslims have grown more negative in recent years, with 35% of respondents expressing an unfavorable view. In 2002, the figure was 29%. Respondents who knew a Muslim or who were college graduates were more likely to express positive views about Islam.
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But the belief that Islam encourages violence has increased even among groups that have relatively favorable views of Muslims. According to the survey, college graduates are just as likely as those with no college experience to associate violence with Islam.
“We’re not surprised,” said Safaa Ibrahim, executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It’s difficult to remove the tarnish of twisted interpretations of terrorists from what Islam means.”
The survey said Americans were similarly uninformed about Mormonism. Although 53% of those surveyed expressed a favorable view of Mormons, nearly the same amount, 51%, said they knew very little about the faith.
As in the case of Islam, respondents with higher educational backgrounds and those who knew a Mormon tended to view Mormonism more favorably. But even more important in respondents’ assessment of Mormons was whether they believe Mormonism to be a Christian religion, according to the survey.
– by Richard John Neuhaus
“Every faithful follower of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tries to emulate Christ’s example in his or her own life,” said Michael Otterson, director of media relations for the church in Salt Lake City. “If that isn’t enough to satisfy people that need a particularly narrow definition of Christianity, then maybe there’s nothing we can do about that.”
Of the 31% of respondents who said Mormons are not Christians, 49% view Mormonism unfavorably, and 42% said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon for president.
Green said the results suggested that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon and GOP presidential hopeful, could face difficulty persuading white evangelical Protestants to vote for him because nearly 40% of those surveyed viewed Mormons unfavorably.
“It’s quite a big challenge because evangelicals are bulk large among voters in southern Republican primaries,” Green said.
The survey also reported that 73% of respondents familiar with Pope Benedict XVI have a favorable opinion of him; 75% reflected favorably on evangelist Billy Graham.
The survey, available at www.pewforum.org, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.