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Favourable view of Muslims in the US ticks up, even as Islamophobic incidents rise

Number of Americans holding Islamophobic and antisemitic views has flatlined, and may actually be shrinking, even as hate crimes increase
World Hijab Day
Women wear US flag headscarves at city hall for World Hijab Day in New York City, on 1 February 2017 (AFP)

The number of US residents holding Islamophobic and antisemitic views has flatlined, and may actually be shrinking, even as hate crimes increase, according to a 2022 poll conducted by Brookings Institute.

Favourable views of Muslims in the US have risen substantially over the past seven years. In 2016, 58 percent of those polled by Brookings held favourable views of Muslims, by May 2022 that number had ticked up to 78 percent.

Authors of the new report, "The antisemitic and Islamophobic fringe is alarmingly emboldened - but it's shrinking", suggested that Americans' views on Muslims were shaped by a rise in Islamophoic rhetoric during the years of the administration of US President Donald Trump.

"As Trump targeted Muslims in his campaign, more Americans, especially Democrats and Independents, seemed to rally behind Muslims, even as anti-Muslim discourse expanded," they said.

An increase in antisemitic rhetoric also does not appear to have impacted the views held by the general public.

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Those polled by Brookings expressed the least opposition to a Jewish presidential candidate compared with any other religion. Just five percent of Republicans and seven percent of Democrats said they would vote against a Jewish presidential candidate. That number was lower than those who would oppose a Catholic or Protestant candidate.

Opposition to a Muslim presidential candidate was substantially higher, with 44 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of Democrats saying they would reject a candidate based on their Islamic faith.

Despite the high opposition, the poll indicates that both Republicans and Democrats are slowly warming to the idea of voting for a Muslim candidate. The total number of those opposed dropped from 31 percent in 2016 to 26 percent in 2022.

Despite the trend in favourability, there has been a significant increase in attacks on Muslim and Jewish groups, suggesting an increased intensity of Islamophobic and antisemitic attitudes.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has documented an increase in antisemitic incidents in the US, rising 34 percent from 2020 to 2021, including a 43 percent increase in harassment and a 167 percent increase in antisemitic assaults - the highest recorded number of antisemitic incidents since ADL first began tracking them in 1979.

Muslim-Americans have also been increasingly targeted. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair)  documented a nine percent increase in Islamophobic incidents from 2020 and the highest number of civil rights complaints in 27 years, including a 28 percent increase in hate and bias incidents.

"It may be easy to conclude that there has been an increase in the number of people who express these beliefs, but the intensity of hate, what we call a vertical expansion, has not led to an increase in the number of people who express such views," the authors noted.

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