There is an interesting public opinion survey out from Cornell.
In a study to determine how much the public fears terrorism, almost half of respondents polled nationally said they believe the U.S. government should — in some way — curtail civil liberties for Muslim Americans, according to a new survey released today (Dec. 17) by Cornell University.
[…] The Media and Society Research Group, in Cornell’s Department of Communication, commissioned the poll, which was supervised by the Survey Research Institute, in Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The results were based on 715 completed telephone interviews of respondents across the United States, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.
The survey also examined the relation of religiosity to perceptions of Islam and Islamic countries among Christian respondents. Sixty-five percent of self-described highly religious people queried said they view Islam as encouraging violence more than other religions do; in comparison, 42 percent of the respondents who said they were not highly religious saw Islam as encouraging violence. In addition, highly religious respondents also were more likely to describe Islamic countries as violent (64 percent), fanatical (61 percent) and dangerous (64 percent). Fewer of the respondents who said they were not highly religious described Islamic countries as violent (49 percent), fanatical (46 percent) and dangerous (44 percent). But 80 percent of all respondents said they see Islamic countries as being oppressive toward women.
[…] “Our results highlight the need for continued dialogue about issues of civil liberties in time of war,” says James Shanahan, Cornell associate professor of communication and a principal investigator in the study. Shanahan and Erik Nisbet, senior research associate with the ILR Survey Research Institute, commissioned the study, and Ron Ostman, professor of communication, and his students administered it.
The results are reported in two parts:
- Restrictions on Civil Liberties, Views of Islam, & Muslim Americans
- U.S. War on Terror, U.S.Foreign Policy, and Anti-Americanism
I’ll focus on the issue of civil liberties for American Muslims.
|All Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts with the federal government.||27%|
|Mosques should be closely monitored and surveilled by U.S. law enforcement agencies.||26%|
|U.S. government agencies should profile citizens as potential threats based on being Muslim or having Middle Eastern heritage.||22%|
|Muslim civic and volunteer organizations should be infiltrated by undercover law enforcement agents to keep watch on their activities and fundraising.||29%|
|Agreed with none of the statements||48%|
|Agreed with one statement||15%|
|Agreed with two or more statements||29%|
While all of these statements are problematic with respect to civil liberties, the monitoring of mosques and organizations could be useful if limited to specific suspicious cases (as Volokh Conspiracy point out.) Profiling might wrong but is an American institution with a history older than the United States itself. The most egregious one then is the requirement for registering every Muslim in the US. Please note that the statement addresses US citizens specifically.
So who are these 27% who want me to register with the government? According to the survey, 40% of the Republicans, 17% of independents and 24% of Democrats want to require Muslim registration. Does this support depend on how personally afraid of terrorism the survey respondents are? Yes, 24% of those with “low fear” and 37% of those with “high fear” want this restriction. Oh and religion seems to make one more of an asshole in this case. Support for registration increases from 15% (low level of religiosity) to 30% (moderate level) to 42% (high level). However, I am not sure how much of this is an artifact of party identity with Republicans being more likely to be more religious and asshole-ish.
Another interesting thing in the survey is the effect of TV news on the opinions of people. Those with low or moderate levels of religiosity don’t show much variation in their support of Muslim registration based on how much attention they give to the TV news. However, highly religious people are affected a lot by the idiot box with only 26% of those who pay low attention to TV news supporting registration as compared to 56% of those whose attention to TV news is classified as high.
None of this is really surprising. It is easy to give up civil rights when those rights belong to the other rather than you. I also remember a Gallup poll from October 2001 in which 49% wanted Arab Americans to carry a special ID and I posted about the effect of media on misperceptions about the Iraq war.
I don’t think that a general measure like registration of all American Muslims or internment like that of Japanese-Americans in World War II is likely to happen. I also don’t think that the US is becoming fascist. But fascist baby steps can happen in a democracy and one of the important battlegrounds is public opinion as Unqualified Offerings points out.
Given the pro-torture credentials of the Bush administration and the anti-civil-liberties stance of a lot of Republican voters, I don’t understand how any intelligent, reasonable person could have voted for George Bush last month. May be some Bush voter can enlighten me?
And I love the title The Poor Man gave to his post on this topic.