American Political Science Review

Research Article

Elite Competition, Religiosity, and Anti-Americanism in the Islamic World


a1 Stanford University

a2 Emory University


The battle for public opinion in the Islamic world is an ongoing priority for U.S. diplomacy. The current debate over why many Muslims hold anti-American views revolves around whether they dislike fundamental aspects of American culture and government, or what Americans do in international affairs. We argue, instead, that Muslim anti-Americanism is predominantly a domestic, elite-led phenomenon that intensifies when there is greater competition between Islamist and secular-nationalist political factions within a country. Although more observant Muslims tend to be more anti-American, paradoxically the most anti-American countries are those in which Muslim populations are less religious overall, and thus more divided on the religious–secular issue dimension. We provide case study evidence consistent with this explanation, as well as a multilevel statistical analysis of public opinion data from nearly 13,000 Muslim respondents in 21 countries.


c1 Lisa Blaydes is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Stanford University, Encina Hall West, Suite 100, Stanford, CA 94305 (

c2 Drew A. Linzer is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Emory University, 102 Tarbutton Hall, 1555 Dickey Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322 (


The authors thank Christopher Anderson, Ceren Belge, Giacomo Chiozza, Tom Clark, Jorge Dominguez, James Fearon, Justin Grimmer, Nahomi Ichino, Shanto Iyengar, David Laitin, Monika Nalepa, Chris Reenock, Ed Schatz, Paul Sniderman, Jeffrey Staton, Jonathan Wand, Carrie Wickham, and the audiences of the Notre Dame Kellogg Institute, the MIT Works-in-Progress Seminar Series, the UC San Diego Comparative Politics Speaker Series, and the Stanford Comparative Politics Workshop. Jana Marie Hutchinson, Ugur Pece, Jeremy Voss, and Meredith Wheeler provided exemplary research assistance. The Pew Global Attitudes Project bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions reached based on our analysis of the data.