Most Americans object to planned Islamic center near Ground Zero, poll finds

By Jon Cohen and Kyle Dropp Washington Post Staff Writers Thursday, September 9, 2010; 3:06 AM Most Americans say the planned Muslim communi...

By Jon Cohen and Kyle Dropp
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 3:06 AM

Most Americans say the planned Muslim community center and place of worship should not be built in Lower Manhattan, with the sensitive locale being their overwhelming objection, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Two-thirds of those polled object to the prospective Cordoba House complex near the site of the former twin towers, including a slim majority who express strongly negative views. Eighty-two percent of those who oppose the construction say it's because of the location, although 14 percent (9 percent of all Americans) say they would oppose such building anywhere in the country.

The new results come alongside increasingly critical public views of Islam: 49 percent of all Americans say they have generally unfavorable opinions of Islam, compared with 37 percent who say they have favorable ones. That's the most negative split on the question in Post-ABC polls dating to October 2001.

Nearly a third of all Americans see mainstream Islam as encouraging violence, little changed from recent years. More, a slim majority, say it's a peaceful religion.

"Whatever faith or God they believe in, I think most people are decent," Susan Deal, 45, of Walbridge, Ohio said in a follow-up interview.

Views of the Cordoba House project are closely related to these general perceptions of Islam, even if those haven't directly caused a broad-based reevaluation. Those who hold favorable views of Islam and see it as generally peaceful religion are far more apt than others to say the building should move forward. For example, 55 percent who have favorable impressions of Islam support the construction, while 87 percent of those with unfavorable views oppose it.

Cyndi Spurlock, 54, of Yoder, Colo., said she opposes having the Islamic center near Ground Zero: "It would hurt so many people because of all the families that were lost there."

Another poll respondent, Jim Walsh, 48, of Philadelphia, wondered about motives for the project. "Emotionally, I think it's wiser not to have it there," he said.

Regardless of their rationale, most voters who firmly oppose the center's construction in Lower Manhattan say they feel strongly enough about the issue that it would influence their congressional vote in November. These voters side by a wide margin with Republican over Democratic candidates.

Overall, 83 percent of Republicans oppose the Muslim center, as do 65 percent of independents and 53 percent of Democrats. Among Republicans, generally negative views have spiked higher: 67 percent of those who identify as Republican say they have unfavorable views of Islam, up from 42 percent in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Big majorities of Protestants and Catholics are against it, with opposition peaking among white evangelical Protestants. By contrast, most people with no professed religion support the construction.

The poll was conducted by telephone Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. The results from the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.


Opposition to 'mosque' directly linked to anti-Islam sentiment, poll shows

We now have clear evidence that there's a direct link between public anti-Islam sentiment and public opposition to the construction of Cordoba House, a.k.a. the "Ground Zero mosque."

The evidence can be found in the internals of the new Washington Post poll on Islam and the planned center, and it was provided to me by Post polling director Jon Cohen. The numbers directly contradict the claim by opponents that public opposition to the project is not linked to broader anti-Islam sentiment, and is only rooted in a desire to be sensitive to 9/11 families or to respect Ground Zero as hallowed ground.

The poll's toplines show that 66 percent of Americans oppose the Islamic center. Separately, a plurality, 49 percent, has generally unfavorable views of Islam.

But it's the intersection of these numbers revealed in the internals that proves the point.

Here's the rub: According to the internals sent my way, opposition to the "Ground Zero mosque" is overwhelmingly driven by those with an unfavorable view of Islam:

* Fifty-five percent of those who have favorable views of the religion say it should be built.

* Meanwhile, among those who have an unfavorable view of Islam, an overwhelming 87 percent say the project shouldn't be built, with 74 percent strongly opposed.

It gets even clearer when you look at the numbers in another way. If you take the 66 percent overall who oppose the project, it turns out that two thirds of those people have generally unfavorable views of Islam, versus only one-third who view Islam favorably.

Clearly, not all opponents of the project feel unfavorably towards Islam. But two-thirds of them do. Does it mean that anti-Islam attitudes are the direct cause of opposition to the project? Impossible to say. But it's overwhelmingly clear that there's a link between the two sentiments, no matter how often opponents tell you the contrary.

By Greg Sargent | September 9, 2010; 11:01 AM ET

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