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Peter King hearing shows 'sharply polarized' attitudes toward Islam

Americans who are older, conservative in their religion and politics, and Republican are more likely to be wary of Muslims in this country, according to polls conducted before Rep. Peter King's hearing on 'radicalization' among American Muslims.

By Staff writer / March 10, 2011

Samira Hussein, of Montgomery County, Md., listens to the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on 'the extent of the radicalization' of American Muslims, Thursday, March 10.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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Public attitudes towards American Muslims – highlighted by the House hearing this week led by Rep. Peter King (R) of New York – are deeply divided and sharply defined, according to new opinion polls.

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In general, Americans who are older, conservative in their religion and politics, and Republican tend to be wary of Muslims in this country. In particular, most of those who identify with the tea party movement say they believe that Islam is more likely to promote violence than other religions.

By contrast, Americans who are younger, more liberal in their religion and politics, and Democrat, are less likely to be concerned that American Muslims are a threat to national or personal security.

The first group generally supports Representative King’s Homeland Security Committee hearing with its controversial title: “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response.” The second group generally disagrees with King’s effort – some going as far as to liken it to a new era of McCarthyism.

A new Gallup poll finds that, when averaged together, about half of all Americans approve of hearings being held on radical Islam in the US, but that breaks down along party lines: 69 percent of Republicans and just 40 percent of Democrats support the idea of the hearings. Republicans also are much more inclined than Democrats to believe that Muslims in the US are “too extreme in their religious beliefs” (50 percent and 25 percent, respectively) and “sympathetic to the Al Qaeda terrorist organization” (38 percent and 24 percent).

Americans 'sharply polarized'

“The large partisan gulf in some of these attitudes … underscores the sharply polarized way in which Republicans and Democrats view the world today – even in their subjective characterizations of religious groups,” writes Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport in an analysis of the poll. “Less than half of Republicans believe that Muslims in the US are supportive of the United States, while a clear majority of Democrats do. And, most relevant to the current debate, while Republicans strongly support the appropriateness of the King hearings, less than half of Democrats agree.”

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