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Study suggests Trump’s “Muslim ban” actually improved attitudes toward Muslims

The media backlash to the ban may have convinced voters such bans are “un-American.”

Protest against U.S President Trump's Travel Ban
Protests against Trump’s travel ban launched a national conversation about what “American values” means.
Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

When President Donald Trump announced his “Muslim ban” barring visitors and would-be refugees alike from six majority-Muslim countries early last year, critics worried it might prompt an additional wave of Islamophobia across the United States, intensifying the anti-Islamic sentiments that had been a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp called it a ploy to “turn ... Islamophobia into the official guiding light of American immigration policy,” legitimizing and codifying the xenophobia and racism Trump had harnessed to win the presidency. And in many respects, Trump’s strategy has been effective. The ban — and the Trump presidency overall — has heralded a new wave of Islamophobic incidents in America. According to the Council on American Islamic Relations, 2017 was potentially one of the worst years in America for Muslims, with anti-Islamic violence and hate speech exceeding the year immediately following the 9/11 attacks.

But a study published this week in the journal Political Behavior suggests that Trump’s Muslim ban may have had an unexpected upside, according to political scientists Loren Collingwood, Nazita Lajevardi, and Kassra A.R. Oskooii of the University of California Riverside, Michigan State University, and the University of Delaware, respectively.

The authors found that the national discourse about the Muslim ban — and a general sense from liberal and mainstream media that the policy was at odds with “American values” — prompted some respondents to shift their attitudes, ultimately causing many Americans who had previously supported or been neutral on the issue of Trump’s Muslim ban to come down against it.

The team surveyed 423 people in early 2017, right before and then about a week after Trump signed the executive order. The study’s authors concluded that the media backlash to the ban and the national conversation it prompted caused many participants to reevaluate their views. More than 30 percent of participants said they felt more negatively about the ban a week after its announcement than they did in the days leading up to it.

This is striking in part because, according to the study’s authors, sudden significant shifts in public opinion tend to be rare. Second, those whose views shifted most radically were those who cited their identity as Americans as a major part of their self-conception overall. This suggests that public debate that centered on the Muslim ban being “un-American,” or otherwise counter to American values of openness and hospitality toward foreigners, had contributed to this shift. Write the study’s authors:

In the hours and days after the executive order was signed we also demonstrated that the information environment — which overwhelmingly focused on the ban above other news events and executive orders — painted the ban, to some degree, as inherently un-American. Challenges to the ban were numerous, with protesters, media commentators, and elites repeatedly and openly critiquing it as fundamentally incompatible with core American values.

In other words, when challenged by what the paper’s authors describe as a media atmosphere focusing on what it “means” to be American, respondents generally found that “Americanness” meant inclusivity, not isolation.

Trump’s appeals to patriotism and “American values” have done much to advance a jingoistic and xenophobic agenda. But in this case, at least, the study’s authors suggest that “American values” can mean so much more.

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