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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump’s False Muslim Claim

Trump wrongly claimed that a Pew Research Center survey found that among the world’s Muslims, “27 percent, could be 35 percent, would go to war” against the U.S.

The Pew Research Center says it has conducted no survey that asks such a question, nor did experts we consulted know of any such survey. One expert we talked to called Trump’s claim “nonsense.” Another told us it had “no scientific basis.”

Trump’s statement came when “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked Trump about his blanket statement during a March 9 interview on CNN that “Islam hates us.” (Trump doubled down on that statement during the Republican debate the following night.)

On “Fox News Sunday,” Wallace said that among the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, “according to the best experts, think tanks around the world, they say at most, 100,000 people are fighting for jihadist causes. That’s less than — it’s a tiny fraction of 1 percent.”

Trump said Wallace’s figure was “about as wrong as you can get” and that “27 percent, could be 35 percent, would go to war.” Trump cited Pew as his source.

Trump, March 13: You’re saying that out of 1.5 billion, 100,000, right — let me tell you, whoever did that survey was about as wrong as you can get. It’s 27 percent, could be 35 percent, would go to war, would — the hatred is tremendous, Chris.

Wallace:  … Wait, wait, you’re saying 250 — you’re saying 250 — 300 million Muslims would go to war against us?

Trump: Why don’t you take a look at the Pew poll that came out very recently or fairly recently, where I think the number — I mean, I could be corrected, it’s whatever it is — but it’s something like 27 percent are, you know, really very militant about going after things.

And you’ll have to look at it. They did a very strong study. And let’s see what it says. But it’s a very significant number. It’s not 100,000 people, I can tell you that. It’s a ridiculous number.

But, look, there’s something going on, Chris, whether you like it or not. It would be easier for me to say, “Oh, no, everybody loves us.” But there’s something going on. There’s a big problem. And radical Islamic terrorism is taking place all over the world.

We reached out to the Pew Research Center — a nonpartisan group that conducts public opinion polling but does not take policy positions — and a spokeswoman told us it has not conducted any survey that fits Trump’s description.

“The Center has not issued a survey saying that 27 percent of Muslims would go to war with the US, nor has the Center asked a question of Muslims about ‘going to war,’ ” Dana Page, a spokeswoman for the Pew Research Center, told us in an email.

Pew did publish a report in 2014 that generally found concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations, and that the concern was growing in the Middle East. It found that overall, few Muslims endorse “suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets as a means of defending Islam against its enemies,” Page said. However, there were a few countries where “substantial minorities believe suicide bombing can be often justified or sometimes justified,” Page said.

For example, more than a quarter of Muslims in a few countries responded that violence against civilians is at least sometimes justified in defense of Islam, including the Palestinian territories (46 percent), Lebanon (29 percent) and Bangladesh (47 percent). But those countries were the exception rather than the rule. For example, in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, 89 percent said suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians are rarely or never justified.

But those who expressed support for violence to defend Islam from its enemies didn’t say, nor were they asked, if they “would go to war” with the U.S., as Trump claims.

Page noted that the question on whether violence against civilians is ever justified does not specify a particular country (such as the U.S.) or group (such as Christians).

Pew Research Center also found that “most people in several countries with significant Muslim populations have an unfavorable view of the terrorist group ISIS, including virtually all respondents in Lebanon and 94 percent in Jordan.” This refers to the terrorist group Islamic State — also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). And strong majorities in most countries with substantial Muslim populations have unfavorable opinions of al Qaeda, the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

We emailed Trump’s campaign to ask what survey Trump may have been referring to, but we did not hear back. However, in December, Trump released a statement that called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” and cited Pew Research and one other survey.

Trump, Dec. 7, 2015: According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. Most recently, a poll from the Center for Security Policy released data showing “25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad.” …

The other survey referenced by Trump was an unscientific, opt-in online poll conducted by the Center for Security Policy in June 2015. The survey of 600 American Muslims, culled from those who had previously agreed to respond to such surveys, found that 29 percent agreed that “violence against those that insult the prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an, or Islamic faith is sometimes acceptable.” Also, 25 percent agreed that “violence against Americans here in the United States can be justified as part of the global jihad.”

Experts warn that an opt-in Internet survey is notoriously unreliable, and the Center for Security Policy itself cautions that the survey can’t be used to represent the American Muslim population at large, but rather “the results are of those individual Muslims polled.” The Washington Post noted that the president and founder of the Center for Security Policy, Frank Gaffney, is identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim extremist. The survey doesn’t represent all Muslims living in the United States — only those surveyed who purported to be Muslim — let alone the world’s Muslims, which was Trump’s claim on “Fox News Sunday.”

In any case, none of these results speaks to Trump’s claim that 27 percent or more “would go to war” with the U.S. And experts we spoke with said they knew of no other surveys that found — or even asked — such a thing.

“I don’t know where Mr. Trump got the figure of 27 or 35 percent of Muslims that want to go to war with the U.S.,” Angel Rabasa, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation who has written extensively about extremism, told us via email. “As far as I know there is no scientific basis for that statement.”

We also reached out to Shadi Hamid, senior fellow for the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, and asked him about Trump’s claim.

“The short answer is: It’s nonsense,” said Hamid, author of “Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World.” “Either Trump imagined the poll or misunderstood whatever the poll was saying.

“Luckily, we don’t even have to pretend to take the claim seriously, since it’s absurd on its face,” Hamid said. “We can look around and say: Yes, terrorism is a real problem but do we actually see millions of Muslims — or in Trump’s telling hundreds of millions Muslims — either waging war against the U.S. or saying they would?”

While we could find no Pew Research Center survey to back up Trump’s claim about the percentage of the world’s Muslims who want to go to war with the U.S., we did find recent Pew research that asked voters how the next president should talk about extremism and Islam.

According to Pew research published in February, “about two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (65 percent) – including seven-in-ten conservative Republicans (70 percent) – want the next president to speak bluntly about extremism even if it means being critical of Islam.” By contrast, 70 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents “say the next president should be careful not to criticize Islam as a whole.”