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Americans closely split over whether Islam is violent

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump waves at a rally in Las Vegas on Dec. 14. Trump's recent statements about Muslims are likely to dominate Tuesday's GOP candidate debate.

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump waves at a rally in Las Vegas on Dec. 14. Trump’s recent statements about Muslims are likely to dominate Tuesday’s GOP candidate debate.

(Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)

As Republicans prepare for a debate likely to be dominated by talk of Islam and terrorism, new polls show Americans divided on the question of whether the religion is violent by nature.

Republicans are far more suspicious than other Americans of an inherent link between Islam and violence, the polls show, a fact that is likely to strongly influence the GOP presidential hopefuls as they debate.

A survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center released Tuesday found that a large majority of white evangelical Protestants -- a key Republican constituency -- as well as smaller majorities of older Americans and those with less education said Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers.

Overall, Americans split evenly on the question of whether Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions, with 46% saying it is more likely to do so and 45% saying it was not, the Pew poll found. That close division has been constant for most of the last decade in Pew polls.

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But the partisan divide on the issue has grown since the George W. Bush years, when followers of the two parties largely agreed on the issue.

Today, among Republicans, 68% call Islam more violent, Pew found, while among Democrats, 30% did. Among people who identified themselves as conservative Republicans, 77% called Islam violent, while among self-identified liberal Democrats, 73% said it was no more violent than other religions.

Among Americans younger than 30, about one-third say Islam is more likely to encourage violence, while among Americans older than 65, more than half do, Pew found.

A poll by the Washington Post and ABC News released Monday asked whether people agreed or disagreed with Donald Trump’s proposal to ban most Muslims from entering the U.S. Republicans supported the ban, 59% to 38%, the poll found. Americans overall opposed it, 60% to 36%.

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The poll also asked whether Americans think Islam encourages violence. The question, worded differently than the one in the Pew poll, found that 28% of Americans thought that “mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims” while 54% called it a “peaceful religion.”

The Post/ABC poll found Trump leading the GOP field, with backing of 38% of Republican voters nationwide. His lead widened to 46% among those who believe “mainstream Islam encourages violence,” the poll found.

For more on politics and policy, follow @DavidLauter.


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