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Americans See U.S. Foreign Policy As Major Reason for Negative Muslim Opinion of United States

Value differences between the United States and Muslim countries seen as less important


PRINCETON, NJ -- According to the most recent Gallup poll of the American public, most residents believe that people in Muslim countries have an unfavorable view of the United States, and that this negative view is mostly influenced by Muslim perceptions of U.S. foreign policy and less so by Muslim perceptions of U.S. values. Especially salient, according to the American public, is the Muslim perception that the United States is unfair in the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis. A Gallup survey of nine predominantly Muslim countries reinforces this assessment, as very few residents of any of the countries surveyed indicate that the United States is even-handed toward the Palestinians.

The Gallup poll in the United States was conducted March 1-3 and shows that 63% of Americans say a major reason why Muslims are unfavorable toward the United States is their belief that this country favors Israel too much in that country’s conflict with Arab nations. Another major reason, according to 62% of the American public, is that Muslims perceive the United States as interfering too much in the affairs of Muslim countries. Just over half of Americans, 51%, believe that Muslim perceptions that the United States is too willing to use military force in Muslim countries are also a major reason for Muslim negative feelings toward this country.

Perceived Reasons for Muslims’
Unfavorable Opinions of the U.S.
March 1-3, 2002

Farther down the list of major reasons why Americans think Muslims are unfavorable toward the United States, each cited by 46% of Americans, are Muslim perceptions that Americans have low moral standards, that there are too many freedoms in the United States, and that U.S. capitalism is harmful to Muslims.

Only 37% of Americans think Muslims are negative toward the United States because Muslims see Americans as having weak family values, while an even smaller 34% of Americans say that Muslim perceptions of crime and violence in the United States are a cause of their negative feelings. Least likely to cause Muslim antipathy, Americans believe, is a perception that the United States does not share its wealth enough with Muslim countries -- cited by just 28% of Americans as a major reason.

Perceived Reasons for Muslims’
Unfavorable Opinions of the U.S.
March 1-3, 2002

The widespread American perception that Muslims feel the United States is not fair in its dealings with the Arabs is strongly supported by a Gallup poll of nine predominantly Islamic countries, conducted this past December and January. Very few people in any of those countries say the United States takes a fair position on the conflict in Palestine, ranging from a low of 1% each in Morocco and Kuwait, to a high of just 12% in Indonesia, the only country where as many as one in 10 residents say the United States is fair.

Perhaps in response to increased news coverage about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, or perhaps also in response to U.S. actions in the war on terrorism, Americans have become somewhat less supportive of U.S. foreign policy toward Israel. Today, less than a majority (although still a plurality -- 48%) say U.S. support of Israel is the right amount, down slightly from 51% who took that position last December and down more substantially from the 58% measured last October. The percentage of Americans who feel U.S. support for Israel is "too much" has increased from 29% last October to 38% today. These results do not represent a major shift in public opinion, however, but rather a gradual movement away from overwhelming support for Israel. The current results show that despite the movement, almost six in 10 still say U.S. support is either the right amount (48%) or not enough (11%).

Opinion of U.S. Support for Israel

These positive views toward Israel are also reflected in a Gallup poll conducted Feb. 4-6, which shows that more than a majority of Americans, 55%, say their sympathies are with the Israelis, while just 14% say the Palestinians, and the rest express no opinion one way or the other. Since Gallup began asking this question in May 1988, sympathies have favored the Israelis by margins of as little as 22 percentage points (37% to 15% in May 1988) to as high as 57 percentage points (64% to 7% during the Gulf War, in February 1991). A month before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Americans expressed their sympathies for Israel by 41% to 13%. That ratio jumped to 55% to 7% immediately after the attacks.

Survey Methods

Results for the U.S. population are based on telephone interviews with 863 national adults, aged 18+, conducted March 1-3, 2002. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points.

Results from predominantly Muslim countries are based on in-person interviews conducted in nine countries between December 2001 and January 2002, with the following sample sizes and margins of error:


Sample Size

Margin of Error

























Saudi Arabia



In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.




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Modified Saturday, March 11, 2017

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