Anti-Muslim Stereotypes Are Associated With Support for Bombing Iran

Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee)

To explore the implications of Jon’s working paper for the present moment, I turn to the 2012 American National Elections (ANES) survey, which includes a question on its web survey asking respondents:

How well does the word 'violent' describe most [X]? [Extremely well, very well, moderately well, slightly well, or not at all / not at all, slightly well, moderately well, very well, or extremely well]?

where [X] includes a series of religious affiliations, including Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, Protestants and Atheists. The ANES also includes several questions about US policy towards Iran. I analyze the following question:

To try to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, would you favor, oppose, or neither favor nor oppose the United States bombing Iran's nuclear development sites.

I recoded the variable so that 1 indicated agreement and 0 indicated either disagreement or neither. Thirty percent of respondents favored bombing Iran, and the rest indicated they were opposed to bombing Iran or did not have a preference either way.

To analyze how stereotypes influence attitudes, I subtracted each individual’s rating of the violence of Protestants from their rating of the violence of Muslims, and then rescaled the variable so 1 indicated a respondent believed the word violent described Muslims “extremely well” and Protestants “not at all well,” .5 indicated parity and 0 indicates an individual believed the word “violent” described Muslims “not at all well,” but Protestants “extremely well."

Below is the distribution of the scale by party. The mean score for all respondents was .61, indicating a bias towards believing Muslims to be more violent. The mean score for Republicans was .68 and the mean score for Democrats was .58 (indicating that Democrats also harbor anti-Muslims stereotypes, though not the extent Republicans do).


I then modeled the relationship between relative beliefs about religious group violence and attitudes toward Iran policy. As controls, I include binary variables indicating race (white and person of color), gender, education (college and non college), and Evangelicalism (born-again or non born-again); as well as 0 to 1 scales indicating age, income, ideology, and partisanship.

I find that stereotyping Muslims is a powerful predictor of support for bombing Iran. Moving from the lowest point in the scale to the highest, holding all other factors equal, increases the predicted probability of support for bombing Iran by 30 percentage points. Men are also a bit more than 10 percentage points more supportive of bombing Iran, and, unsurprisingly, conservatives are more supportive of bombing Iran than liberals.