Does holding prejudiced views against Muslims, gays or women make someone a 'bad person'?

Posted September 28, 2016

Does holding prejudiced views automatically make someone a bad person?

That's the key question at the center of a recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll, which asked respondents to weigh in on whether people who hold prejudices against Muslims, gays, women, African-Americans and immigrants are bad people.

The fascinating results varied slightly depending on the group being assessed, but the overarching narrative is, perhaps, best summarized by The Huffington Post's Ariel Edwards-Levy: "The results show Americans’ discomfort with outright condemning people who hold bigoted views."

Let's start by looking first at what people said about anti-Muslim sentiment. Only 16 percent of respondents said that "a person who holds negative views about Muslims" is definitively a "bad person."

The largest proportion — 53 percent — said that this person is prejudiced, but "not necessarily a bad person." And an extra 25 percent said that the person is neither prejudiced nor a bad person.

The results, which were collected among American adults earlier this month, come at a time in which the Muslim faith is under increased scrutiny as a result of ongoing terror attacks perpetrated by radical Islamic extremists.

These attacks appear to also be causing problems for Muslims more broadly. According to one analysis, attacks against Muslims in the U.S. have reportedly hit the highest levels since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Terror attacks have also fueled rhetoric perceived by many as anti-Muslim, with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump initially proposing a blanket ban on Islamic immigration before tempering his language to favor a system of extreme vetting from countries with a history of terror.

Interestingly, the poll also assessed views on anti-immigrant sentiment, finding that just 10 percent of Americans believe that negative views about immigrants from other countries makes someone a bad person.

Meanwhile, 54 percent said such a person is prejudiced — but not necessarily a bad person — with 29 percent saying the individual falls under neither category.

Despite all the recent controversy over Islam and immigration, though, the results surrounding Americans' perceptions of prejudice were strikingly similar for other groups such as women, African-Americans and gays.

In fact, only 11 percent of respondents said that "a person who holds negative views about gays" is a bad person. An additional 59 percent said that the person might be prejudiced, but that he or she is not necessarily a bad person, with 25 percent saying that the person is neither prejudiced nor a bad person.

When the question turned to African-Americans the proportions were again quite similar, with just 13 percent saying that holding negative views about blacks makes someone a bad person. Fifty-seven percent selected "prejudiced, but not necessarily a bad person," with 23 percent saying neither.

Interestingly, people who hold anti-female sentiment were the most likely to be cited as "bad" people, though even that proportion was relatively low at 16 percent. Read all the results here.

One important factor: Age presented the largest differences in perceptions about prejudice, specifically when assessing those with anti-gay views.

As The Huffington Post noted, 18 percent of those below age 30 said that holding such views makes someone a bad person, while just 4 percent of people over age 65 said the same.

The Huffington Post/YouGov poll was conducted among 1,000 respondents via an online survey from Sept. 14-15, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

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