After Donald Trump refused to condemn a string of anti-Muslim remarks at a New Hampshire town hall and Ben Carson declared that the U.S. should not elect a Muslim president, backlash was swift.
Democrats and Muslim civil-rights organizations leapt to denounce the Republican presidential candidates’ statements. Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Can a Muslim be President of the United States of America? In a word: Yes. Now let’s move on.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations was more blunt, calling for Carson to drop out of the presidential race.
Polling data helps explain Trump and Carson’s stand. Anti-Muslim sentiment is deeply felt among a substantial segment of Republican voters. Negative views towards Muslims are particularly prevalent among white evangelical Protestants, a key slice of the electorate for the Republican primary and a voting block that many of the 2016 GOP contenders are in fierce competition to win.
Republicans rated Muslims more negatively than any other religious group and were more likely than Democrats to hold an unfavorable view of Muslims, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014. Roughly two-thirds of Republicans and Americans identified with the tea-party movement believe that Islam is out of step with American values, the Public Religion Research Institute reported in 2011.