For all of the Islamophobia in the ideologies of the far rights on both sides of the Atlantic, recent polls show that the perception of many Europeans and North Americans toward Muslims is not per se negative, according to a Pew Center poll on non-Muslim perceptions of Islam and Muslims that was conducted in mid-2017 (for Europe) and September 2019 (for the US).
In 15 Western European countries, including the UK, the average of people willing to have Muslims as neighbours was 83%; that number dropped however when it came to accepting a Muslim as part of their family: 66%. (The survey did not include either Central or Eastern Europe; Germany, Finland and Austria are counted as “Western Europeans“, while the Visegrad nations are not included).
The poll also shows US Americans surprisingly open to having Muslims living next to them: 89%. But the Americans, too, were less likely to want Muslims in the family: 79%. Younger people, the college educated, Democrats, and people of colour were more open to Muslims than their counterparts.
In Western Europe, the nationalities most open to Muslims were Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The least so were: Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, and then Germany. For example, two-thirds of non-Muslim French citizens claim they could imagine a Muslim in the family; yet only 53% of the British, 54% of Austrians and 55% of the German respondents say the same.
In terms of age, race, education, and politics, the same patterns emerge as in the US. Citizens with politics on the left of the political spectrum are more friendly to Muslims and Islam than those on the right.
The pollsters concluded that “While majorities of Americans and Western Europeans have accepting views toward Muslims, they are more divided on whether to accept Islam in their societies.” In Germany, 44% of citizens say there is a “fundamental contradiction between Islam and German culture and values,” compared with 46% who do not agree.
Earlier this year, a multi-country YouGov poll found that nearly half of French and Germans believe Islam is incompatible with their countries' values and that fewer people in Muslim countries think Christianity fundamentally clashes with their values. Nearly half of those questioned in France (46%) and Germany (47%), and a plurality in the United States (36%) and Britain (38%) perceived a clash between Islam and the values of society in their country.
Interestingly, though, the Europeans are, largely, more likely to actually know a Muslim person than US Americans, according to the Pew survey. In the US only 46% did while 67% of the European knew a Muslim. The exceptions, though, were Portugal where only 31% of those questioned said they knew a Muslim, and 35% in Finland.
The Pew Center notes that Muslims compose about 1% of the US population. In Europe, they are estimated to form roughly 5% of the population, including 6% in the UK and Germany, and nearly 9% in France.
There was no explanation as to why the European research was conducted in 2017 and the US data gathered this year, or whether this might affect the comparisons.