An overwhelming majority of Republican voters in the United States regard the west and Islam as being embroiled in “a fundamental conflict which only one side can win”, according to new YouGov polling seen exclusively by the Guardian.
As the UN general assembly was convening in New York, with an agenda including the ongoing conflict in Syria, the Iranian nuclear question and the Arab uprisings, the pollsters asked both American and British voters about their attitudes to the Muslim world.
Opinion was reasonably evenly split on both sides of the Atlantic, and indeed somewhat more tolerant in the United States. Overall, Americans rejected the view of a fundamental clash of cultures that can only have one winner – only 39% adopted this view, against 47% who believe that “it is possible for the west and Muslims to coexist in peace”. In Britain, by contrast, the respective figures were 43% and 41%, suggesting that British opinion towards Islam is somewhat more hostile overall.
But American opinion is beset by a sharp partisan divide. By a near three-to-one margin, of 64% to 23%, Republicans perceive a fundamental conflict. The overall picture of American tolerance emerges only because Democratic identifiers incline even more emphatically towards the hope of peaceful co-existence, by a 68%-18% margin. The partisan gap in support for the “conflict” view is therefore 46 percentage points. Among independents, the split is right down the middle – with 45% believing peace should be possible, and 44% ruling it out.
There is something of a right-left split in the UK too, but it is nothing like as marked. Amongst Conservatives, there is a 49%-40% lead for the perception of conflict, a near mirror image of the 48%-39% balance in favour of peaceful co-existence among Labour supporters.
That makes the Tory-Labour gap in support for the “conflict” perspective 10 points. Liberal Democrats are the most optimistic about east-west relations, with 58% believing peace should be possible, against just 26% who say the reverse.