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

The controversy grows over a proposed mosque near Ground Zero as more politicians enter the fray.
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.

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