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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls: Week Ending January 17, 2015

Bob Dylan once declared, “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” That could well describe America’s response to radical Islam.

Sixty-four percent (64%) of Likely U.S. Voters think there is a global conflict in the world today between Western civilization and Islam 

Yet the president of the United States and his top aides refuse to use the words “radical” and “Islam” in the same sentence.

The men responsible for the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris shouted an Islamic expression of faith and said after the killings they had avenged the prophet Mohammed. But only 24% of Americans think the actions of the killers represent the true beliefs of Islam. Just 16% believe the Taliban in Afghanistan represent true Islamic beliefs following their massacre of 130 school children in Pakistan, and 27% say that of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which regularly beheads innocents on YouTube. 

However, 52% of voters also think that Islam as practiced today encourages violence more than most other religions. Seventy-five percent (75%) agree that Islamic religious leaders need to do more to emphasize the peaceful beliefs of their faith.

Those murdered in Paris were killed for mocking Islam. Americans have mixed feelings about how media organizations treat religion in this country, but they strongly defend their right to say what they want to. Still, 65% believe it is likely an attack will happen in this country in the next year on those critical of Islam.

But 60% of voters think American society as a whole is fair and decent, the highest finding in nearly two years. Just 20% think most Muslims are treated unfairly in the United States because of their religion. By contrast, 66% believe most Christians living in the Islamic world are treated unfairly because of their religious faith.

Americans still believe most of their fellow countrymen aren’t racist but think race relations in this country have taken a decided turn for the worse. Whites, in particular, have grown much more pessimistic about the racial picture.

Only eight percent (8%) of all voters think race relations are better since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and unlike many questions dealing with race, blacks and whites don’t disagree much on this one. 

A year ago in his State of the Union address, the president argued that income inequality was a major problem for this country and vowed to confront it. Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters still believe that in America today the rich still get richer, while the poor get poorer.

In his upcoming State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama will formally propose making the first two years of community college free for millions of students. Voters tend to like the community college idea as long as it doesn’t cost them anything.

Most voters aren’t looking for new federal programs: They don’t like the government, and they think it should downsize. Voters want the government to do more to help the economy, but what they want it to do is cut spending.

As the national unemployment rate continues to drop, most Americans remain opposed to long-term government help for those out of work.

Voters are more convinced than ever that government contracts go to the companies with the most political connections, not the ones that offer the best service for the price.

Suspicious of how their government functions, voters also like the constitutional system of checks and balances to keep their elected officials in line. Most believe the federal government should only do what the president and Congress agree on. They also say a president should not be able to change laws passed by Congress on his own, even as congressional Republicans challenge Obama’s decision not to enforce the deportation of up to five million illegal immigrants.

After all, most voters continue to believe that securing the border is more important than legalizing the status of undocumented workers already here. They think plans to offer legal status to such individuals will just encourage more illegal immigration.

Many favor the use of the U.S. military along our southern border to stop illegal immigration. We asked Americans if the U.S. military would be best used at home or abroad.

Despite the political bickering, consumer and investor confidence remain near their highest levels since 2007. 

The president’s daily job approval ratings remain higher since Election Day.

Democrats and Republicans are tied on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

In other surveys last week:

-- Thirty percent (30%) of voters say the United States is heading in the right direction.

-- Gas prices are hitting near-record lows around the country, but Americans suspect the rock-bottom prices won’t last for long.

-- While several economic indicators suggest the U.S. economy may finally be recovering, car buying doesn't appear to be one of them.

-- Over half (53%) of Americans now say they’ve gone an entire week without paying for anything with cash or coins.

-- Forty percent (40%) of Americans say they have had credit card or debit card information stolen, and 45% of these adults say they have lost this information through a major data breach at a retailer they’ve bought things from. 

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