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Partisanship, not piety, predicts political views Open in fullscreen

Dalia Mogahed

Partisanship, not piety, predicts political views

Race, not religion, is a more accurate predictor of voting intention [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 November, 2020

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Comment: While religion has the power to inspire, legitimise and manipulate, a new study shows it has little bearing on political positions, writes Dalia Mogahed.
Faith can be a powerful motivator. As a believing Muslim, my beliefs give my life meaning, and have gotten me through some encredibly difficult experiences. 

Religion can also be instrumentalised. 

Over the past four years, religion has emerged as a prop in American political theatre, with religious symbols brandished like gang symbols in the so-called culture war.  President Trump's famous June photo-op with a Bible in front of St John's Church as law enforcement aggressively broke up Black Lives Matter protests is but one example.

And so one can be forgiven for assuming that for believers, religion is the primary driver behind their views on the most controversial issues of the day, with the most devout siding with the right. But according to a new study released by The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding where I serve as Director of Research, religious practice and even religious identification - all else being equal - do not predict one's position on the "cultural war" issues of our day. Political ideology does. 

While Muslims are the least likely faith community to favour Trump as the nation's next president, this is significantly higher than the 4 percent who picked him as their candidate of choice in our 2016 survey

Our research is based on representative national surveys of Americans who identify as Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, as well as those who do not identify with any faith community. We asked a representative sample of each group about a wide range of political and social views, including their opinion of the president, and their level of support for building coalitions between their faith community and a number of movements and causes signifying different sides of America's divisive political issues. The results surprised us. 

First, what didn't surprise us: In March, when the survey was fielded, Muslims and the non-affiliated were the least likely to select Trump as their candidate of choice (14 percent of Muslims and 16 percent of the non-affiliated vs. 27 percent of Jews, 34 percent of Catholics, 39 percent of Protestants, 61 percent of white Evangelicals, and 30 percent of the general public).

While Muslims are the least likely faith community to favour Trump as the nation's next president, this is significantly higher than the 4 percent who picked him as their candidate of choice in our 2016 survey. No other group increased in their support for the president by this much. We are still unsure why this might be.

However, we do know that what distinguishes Muslims who favour a Trump win 2020 from those who do not isn't religiosity, but race. The president enjoys the support of nearly a third (31 percent) of Muslims who identify as white, compared with just 6–8 percent of non-white Muslims. Religious practice made no difference.

Read more: Why some American Muslims are choosing to vote Republican in the 2020 US election

Though Muslims as a whole are the least likely faith community to identify as Republican and the most likely to support the movement for Black lives, Muslims who support Trump look less like their faith community and more like his supporters in the wider public.

In terms of political leanings, both Muslim and general public Trump supporters are more likely to identify as Republican, oppose coalition building between their faith community and Black Lives Matter, support coalition building between their faith community and political conservatives on religious liberty issues, and prioritise the economy as their most important policy issue. Additionally, both groups of Trump supporters are more likely to identify as white. Notably, Muslim and Trump supporters in the general public are both more likely to endorse anti-Muslim tropes.

However, despite its visibility in his public appearances, the variable completely missing as a predictor for Trump support among Muslims and the general public is religiosity.

Level of religious practice, and even what religion one belonged to, all else being equal, also had no predictive power regarding respondents' endorsement of coalition building with Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ activists, religious liberty groups, or pro-life organisations.

Instead, it is partisanship and political ideology that are significantly associated with support for coalition building in expected ways, both among Muslims and the general public. 

The variable completely missing as a predictor for Trump support among Muslims and the general public is religiosity

We found a similar pattern when examining Islamophobia, which we defined as the level of endorsement the public had for anti-Muslim stereotypes. Identifying as a Republican and/or holding political ideology other than very liberal are associated with more negative views of Muslims among the general public. Factors not associated with Islamophobia include religiosity (frequency of religious attendance and importance of religion), and religious affiliation.

While religion has the power to inspire and legitimise, and has been deputised on the side of right-leaning political and cultural positions, the evidence is clear: There are strong believers on both sides of this divide.


Dalia Mogahed is the Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, where she leads the organisation's pioneering research and thought leadership programs on American Muslims.

Follow her on Twitter: @DMogahed

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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