Comparing American conservative Protestants & Muslims

By Razib Khan | April 29, 2012 8:09 pm

A few years ago a book came out, American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right. The title clearly was aimed to push copies, but the gist of the title has moderately wide circulation. The rough sketch is that conservative American Protestants are roughly equivalent to conservative Muslims. I have always held that this is a qualitatively misleading analogy. The reason is from all I can gather the socially views of mainstream American conservative Protestants are actually in the moderate range of opinion amongst Muslims. But apples-to-apples comparisons are rather difficult in this domain.

But then I realized that the World Values Survey could allow me to do exactly such comparisons. The method is simple. First, you can subsample the data sets, so I could look at Protestants in the United States who identified as political conservatives. I compared these to the view of Muslims in a selection of nations (the WVS doesn’t cover much of the world, and some questions are not asked in some countries).

The results below range from 1, never justifiable, to 10, always justifiable. There is some strangeness in the results below, but they show the general qualitative result: American conservative Protestants are in the main to the center or social liberal end of Muslim public opinion. They are not comparable at all to Muslim reactionaries.

Never justifiableAlways justifiable
Justifiable: homosexuality
USA – Conserv Protestants48%7%4%0%22%5%3%4%1%4%2%0%
Iran (Shia)81%8%3%1%1%1%1%1%0%1%0%1%
Jordan (Muslim99%0%0%0%0%0%0%0%0%0%0%0%
Malaysia (Muslim47%9%8%8%12%7%5%2%1%1%0%0%
Turkey (Muslim)72%9%5%5%5%1%1%1%0%1%2%1%
Justifiable: abortion
USA – Conserv Protestants27%13%9%6%20%7%3%8%1%3%1%0%
Iran (Shia)61%11%7%5%8%3%2%2%1%2%0%1%
Iraq (Shia)83%6%3%3%0%0%0%0%0%0%3%2%
Iraq (Sunni)62%7%4%1%6%5%4%2%1%2%6%0%
Jordan (Muslim93%1%2%1%1%1%0%0%0%0%1%0%
Malaysia (Muslim)49%11%8%6%11%9%5%2%1%1%0%0%
Morocco (Muslim)74%4%6%3%7%1%1%1%0%1%0%3%
Justifiable: man to beat his wife
USA – Conserv Protestants86%6%1%0%2%0%0%0%0%0%2%0%
Iran (Shia)74%10%5%3%2%1%1%1%1%1%2%0%
Jordan (Muslim)86%2%2%3%5%1%1%0%0%0%0%0%
Malaysia (Muslim)45%10%7%8%12%8%5%3%1%2%0%0%
Morocco (Muslim)66%7%6%5%7%2%2%2%1%3%0%1%
Turkey (Muslim)78%11%5%2%1%0%1%0%0%1%0%0%
MORE ABOUT: Data, Public opinion

Comments (8)

  1. True_Q

    I didn’t realize Jordanians are so conservative while having a trekkie king;)
    What’s more surprising are the views on beating wives… Really this is the most important thing for American conservative Protestants?

  2. Really this is the most important thing for American conservative Protestants?

    what the hell does that even mean? future non sequiturs will result in banning.

  3. riaz

    Homosexuality, maybe, but abortion is not that a hot button in Muslims societies, as in the US. I guess, it has become a hot one , in the US, because of more women in work force and women lib. But thats not the case, YET, in the muslim world


  4. Dynotec

    It would be interesting to throw in Orthodox Jews if there’s a large enough N from the Israeli WVS sample

  5. Haven’t played around with WVS much, so I’m curious how you subsampled conservative Protestants. Seems surprising that they’d be so comparatively open to abortion, given that that’s one of the major political issues motivating conservative Protestants.

  6. #2
    Razib, i think he meant that with regards the to “the man beating his wife” question, that that is the question where the americans are the closest to the muslims in % of the “never justifiable” column.

  7. Doug S.

    For abortion, “never justifiable” would also mean no abortions in cases of rape, incest, or if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother – which would be further than many conservative U.S. Christians would want to go.

  8. Dan H

    These are softball questions for the Muslim societies. The real questions that show how illiberal many Muslims really are, are not even asked in the World Values Survey.

    Questions such as: should someone face death for leaving the faith (Islam or Christianity, respectively)?

    Results you get are 76% in Pakistan, 84% in Egypt and 86% in Jordan, three illiberal countries.

    Maybe these results by Pew overstate things a little, but Pew has no history of right-wing bias, and there are presently people on trial for apostasy in more than one Muslim country and facing death.

    In America I have lived 33 years and interacted with tens of thousands in my lifetime and never known of anyone who believed in death as punishment for leaving the faith.

    By this measure, ~80% of Muslims are less liberal than the most illiberal American. The most illiberal Christian I can think of Terry Jones, the illiberal pastor in Florida, has not gone as far as 80% of Muslims.

    Stoning for adultery? Similar result.

    And isn’t tolerance of other faiths what liberalism is really about?


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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