Poll Shows Americans' Double Standard For Muslim Candidates

Most think it's unfair to oppose a candidate based on their religion -- as long as it's Christianity.

When Republican presidential contender Ben Carson touched off a firestorm last weekend by saying he "would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation," his top aide shrugged off the controversy.

"Republican primary voters are with us at least 80-20," campaign manager Barry Bennett told The Associated Press.

He was basically right.

In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, 57 percent of Americans, including 83 percent of Republicans, say they agree with Carson's statement about Muslim candidates. Just 7 percent of Republicans think Carson should apologize. (Facing condemnations from not only Muslim civil rights groups but also several GOP rivals, Carson eventually walked back his statements somewhat, claiming they had been taken out of context.)

A simple test demonstrates that Americans' views of the unfairness of opposing a candidate for the candidate's religious beliefs depend on which religion is in question. Half the people surveyed were asked whether it would be fair to oppose a political candidate for office solely because the person was a Christian. The other half were asked the same question about a hypothetical Muslim candidate, with considerably different results.

About two-thirds of Democrats in both groups say opposing a candidate based on the person's religion isn't fair. However, political independents asked about a Christian candidate are 35 percentage points more likely to say it is unfair to oppose the person than those asked about a Muslim candidate. Among Republicans, the difference is 55 points.

Beyond their willingness to consider Muslim candidates, many Americans express hostility toward the religion in general. A 54 percent majority, including 80 percent of Republicans, say they have an unfavorable view of Islam. And relatively few took issue with GOP candidate Donald Trump's failure to challenge blatantly anti-Islamic remarks earlier this month.

"We have a problem in this country, it's called Muslims," a Trump supporter said at a recent rally, before incorrectly claiming President Barack Obama was Muslim and not an American.

Many media outlets drew unflattering parallels to 2008 Republican nominee John McCain, who shot down a supporter when she said she didn't trust Obama and that he was "an Arab." McCain told her Obama was "a decent person ... that you do not have to be scared of."

The American public, however, is about evenly split over whether Trump had a responsibility to defuse the situation, with 40 percent saying he had an obligation to challenge the questioner at his rally, and 43 percent saying he did not. Two-thirds of Republicans say he had no such obligation.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Sept.  22-23 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls' methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.