Washington, D.C. – June 6, 2018
New reports from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group reveal mixed signals about support for traditional pillars of democracy: Americans strongly support Congressional oversight of the executive branch and believe the president is subject to courts and law. However, support is lower for media scrutiny of the president and attitudes toward Muslim Americans suggest a troubling lack of commitment to religious diversity.
The Voter Study Group is a research collaboration of leading analysts and scholars from across the political spectrum. The two new reports analyze robust survey data about attitudes of Americans toward our political systems’ checks and balances and Muslim Americans:
- ”Muslims in America: Public Perceptions in the Trump Era,” by John Sides (George Washington University) and Dalia Mogahed (Institute for Social Policy and Understanding)
- ”Testing the Limits: Examining Public Support for Checks on Presidential Power,” by Lee Drutman (New America), Larry Diamond (Hoover Institution) and Joe Goldman (Democracy Fund)
In “Muslims in America,” Sides and Mogahed analyzed unique data from the July 2017 wave of the Views of the Electoral Research (VOTER) Survey from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. Key findings include:
- Americans view many Muslims in the United States as insufficiently “American.” The survey asked respondents what percent of Muslim Americans are described by a specific statement. For each statement, respondents moved a slider on a scale of “none” (0%) to “all” (100%). On average, Americans believed that only 56% of Muslim Americans want to fit in and be part of the U.S., and that an even smaller portion (51%) respects American ideals and laws.
- Perceptions of Muslim Americans are strongly related to partisanship and cultural conservatism. On average Democrats believed that a substantial majority of Muslims (67%) wanted to fit in but Republicans believed that only 36%, or less than half, of Muslim Americans wanted to fit in.
- Perceptions of Muslim Americans cross partisan lines on three dimensions: Democrats and Republicans did not differ much in their perceptions of how many Muslims are religious, have outdated views of women, and have outdated views of gays and lesbians.
- Negative perceptions of Muslim Americans do not match how Muslim Americans describe themselves. For example, a large majority of Muslim Americans express patriotic sentiments. In a 2017 Institute for Social Policy and Understanding poll of Muslim Americans, 84% of Muslims said they identified strongly with being an American, as did 84% of Protestants and 91% of Catholics.
- Almost 20% of Americans would deny Muslims who are American citizens the right to vote.
“In this report, we document a wide gap between what most Americans say about Muslims living in the United States and how Muslim Americans see themselves,” said John Sides, associate professor of political science at The George Washington University and research director of the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. “This gap is accompanied by substantial support for policies targeting Muslims; nearly one in five Americans would even deny Muslims who are U.S. citizens the right to vote. With the Muslim share of the U.S. population projected to double by 2050, the civil rights and liberties of Muslim Americans appear to have a tenuous status in American public opinion.”
“This paper highlights the misperceptions that fuel Islamophobia,” said Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. “Muslims have been part of America since its inception and are just as likely to be patriotic as non-Muslims, yet many Americans believe Muslim Americans are not ‘fully American.’ These misperceptions hurt not only Muslim Americans, but all Americans.”
The second analysis released today tackles another pillar of our political system – checks and balances – and suggests Americans who exhibit less religious tolerance are also less likely to be supportive of the media’s role in scrutinizing the executive branch. The new brief, “Testing the Limits,” examines how Americans think about the relationship between presidential authority and three specific checks on presidential power: the Congress, the courts, and the press. The brief builds upon “Follow the Leader: Exploring American Support for Democracy and Authoritarianism,” also authored by Drutman, Diamond and Goldman. Key findings include:
- Large majorities of Americans believe the president should be subject to oversight and restraints on executive power. For example, 91% of respondents agreed that “the president must always obey the laws and the courts, even when he thinks they are wrong.”
- However, President Trump’s supporters are much more likely to express support for other types of accountability and oversight. For example, 48% of respondents with a favorable view of President Trump agreed that “the media shouldn’t scrutinize the president.”
- Among President Trump’s supporters, lower levels of education and lower levels of interest in news are associated with lower support for checks on executive authority.
“It is encouraging that support for checks on the presidential authority remains high,” said Democracy Fund President Joe Goldman. “Even among Trump supporters who express dissatisfaction with democracy or openness to authoritarian alternatives, many support Congressional oversight and say the president must be bound by the law. However, it is extremely concerning that support for media scrutiny of the president – a pillar of our democracy – is not as high, particularly among the president’s supporters.”
“Our analysis found strong support for American democracy’s distinctive set of checks and balances,” said Lee Drutman, senior fellow at New America. “However, the differences in partisan attitudes toward these key institutions is worrisome, as it highlights the fragility of essential democratic institutions that are currently under attack.”
“Our democracy depends on popular support for its norms and institutions, including Congressional oversight of the executive branch, a free and independent press, and the rule of law,” said Larry Diamond, senior fellow, Hoover Institution. “We can take heart that most Americans express support for democratic norms and institutions, but we have work to do to increase understanding of their importance and the values that they represent.”
The full reports can be found at www.voterstudygroup.org, along with other research from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group.