A new poll on terrorism fears underscores a deep divide that permeates our politics and culture.
More than half of Americans say in a survey by Chapman University in California that they fear the threat of terrorism, but they are divided along party and racial lines over which groups represent the greatest threats to national security.
Posters found that a majority of Americans, 61 percent, said they are afraid or very afraid that Islamic extremists represent a threat to national security.
Republicans and white Americans, however, harbor greater fears about Muslim jihadis than do minority groups. More than eight in ten Republicans say they are afraid or very afraid of Islamic extremists, while just 42 percent of strong Democrats said the same.
Nearly two-thirds of whites said they feared jihadis, according to the poll, while only 42 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics said they were afraid or very afraid of Islamic terrorism.
On the other hand, Democrats or minorities make up the majority of Americans who say they believe white supremacists represent a threat to national security. Three-quarters of strong Democrats, 58 percent of blacks and 69 percent of Hispanics said they were afraid or very afraid of white supremacists, while only a third of Republicans agreed.
Overall, 51 percent of Americans said they see white supremacists as a threat.
“The questions about which extremists are viewed as national security threats seem to be a proxy of sorts for the broad political polarization that currently characterizes our country,” said Peter Simi, director of the Earl Babbie Research Center at Chapman University.
White supremacists and right-wing extremists are responsible for more attacks in the United States than Islamic terrorism, several studies have found in recent years.
Since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, at least 13 subsequent attacks have been carried out by Muslim extremists in the U.S., claiming 95 lives, according to a study by the New America Foundation, a center-left Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
More than half of those lives were lost in a single incident, the attack on a night club in Orlando, Fla., carried out by an extremist who swore allegiance to the Islamic State. Fourteen more people died in the second-deadliest attack, the shootings at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015.
Attacks by white supremacists are much more frequent, though they have claimed fewer lives.
The New America Foundation study found 33 deadly attacks by far-right groups since 2001, including the massacre at a Charleston, S.C., church that killed nine black worshippers and the attack on a group of counter-protestors this summer in Charlottesville, Va., in which a white supremacist allegedly killed a woman with his car.
Still, Americans distrust Muslims more than almost any other group. Another Chapman University study found 44 percent of Americans said they distrusted Muslims, higher than any other group except strangers — 56 percent.
Nearly half of Americans, 48 percent, said they would not be comfortable with a mosque in their neighborhood, led by Republicans and whites, Chapman University sociologist Edward Day said.