According to a new study by Gallup, there is one religious group of Americans who are more likely to believe that they will get closer to the best possible life for themselves in the next five years. This same group is also second most likely to consider themselves “thriving,” while second least likely to consider themselves “struggling,” and far and away more apt say that their standard of living is increasing. It’s also the same group of which nearly one in two report experiencing either racial or religious discrimination.
It is an improving time to be a Muslim American, according to the numbers.
Ten years after 9/11, Gallup started collecting polling data from Muslim Americans about their experiences in the U.S. The narrative found in the new report, “Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom and the Future,” is about the prospects of developing a place in American society. Muslim Americans see hope for their economic future at a higher rate than other religious groups, and are increasingly engaged civically, despite being the least likely faith group to be registered to vote. Where they face challenges is in the social realm: they are less likely to feel respected when practicing their religion, and nearly half say they’ve been the target of discrimination.
The economic numbers are particularly stark: in just three years, Muslim Americans have gone from 46% in 2008 saying their standard of living is increasing, to 64% in 2011. Other religious groups experienced an uptick in the same perception, except for Mormons, who say they have seen it go down.
Muslim Americans are also more optimistic about achieving their “best possible life” than any other religious group. When asked what rung out of a ladder of ten they feel their life is at (ten being the perfect life), American Muslims say they are at an average of seven, and in five years they say they’ll be at an 8.4. Other groups, while also enthusiastic about their future, don’t see as big an uptick in their stead. Muslim Americans were also more positive on the national economic conditions, with large portion (24%) saying conditions are “excellent/good” and 54% who said they were improving. By contrast, only 12% of Protestant Americans described conditions as “excellent/good” and 32% described them as getting better.
In an interview with TPM, Mohamed Younis, a Senior Analyst with Gallup who worked on the report, said that much of the economic positivity on the part of Muslim Americans had to do with an improving social outlook. “It’s important to keep in mind the reference point,” he said. “In some ways there [is] more to gain, not in economics and life in evaluations, but more [in lessening] discrimination and stress. I think what they see is a complete shift in tone in the discourse on them in the debate. Whether or not that hopefulness could be delivered is yet to be seen, there’s a quick road up and down. Folks can be lifted quickly and let down just as quickly. Is prejudice and discrimination going to go down?”
In their recommendations based on the data, the report first suggested more measures to lessen discrimination that Muslim Americans feel, which in turn leads to stress and dissatisfaction. But they also pointed to the positive influence of faith in Muslim Americans’ lives and the role that Mosques and Community Centers can play. “Islamic centers and mosques have emerged as important institutions in Muslim Americans’ spiritual, social, and political engagement,” the report reads. “The Muslim-American community would do well to invest in building the capacity of these institutions,” a point seconded by Younis: “We found that those who worship were less likely to experience stress and more likely to to be social engaged. A community center that becomes the jumping off point. In the next ten years, is the local mosque going to be that essential place?”
There is also improvement especially among Muslim American youth. In a previous 2008 Gallup study, the percentage of Muslim American youth in the “thriving” category was only 40%, well below members of other faiths. Now, that number has increased dramatically.
In 2008, Muslim-American youth were the exception to the trend of a “youth bonus” in thriving, where young populations are typically higher in thriving compared with older populations. In contrast, 2010-2011 data suggest that Muslim-American youth are now thriving at a proportion similar to their peers — on par with young Catholic Americans, Mormon Americans, and people of no religion. And they share the trend of being more positive about their lives today and in the future than older members of their faith group.
Read the rest of the report here:
Most of the results come from 1,492 telephone interviews with Muslim Americans from the nightly Gallup telephone polls conducted from Jan. 1st, 2010 and Apr. 9th, 2011. That sample has a margin of error of plus or minus three percent. The trended numbers from 2008 to 2011 come from a sample of 3,883 interviews, conducted from Jan. 1st 2008 to Apr. 9th, 2011, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percent.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.