Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, has stood by his contention that thousands of Muslims celebrated in Jersey City when the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. A new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind national poll released Tuesday asked Americans if they believed Trump was right or wrong.

The survey also asked people across the nation if they trusted the media.

“Twenty percent of Americans say that large groups of Muslims in New Jersey, thousands, celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and 28 percent aren’t sure. So, about half of Americans think that it happened or aren’t quite sure. They’re not willing to say that it didn’t happen,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Political Science at FDU and an analyst for the poll.

The partisan breakdown includes a look at those who said they supported Trump or Hillary Clinton for president:

  • 36 percent who said they back Trump believed the celebrations took place.
  • 41 percent of Trump supporters weren’t sure.
  • 13 percent of Clinton’s supporters said the celebrations happened.
  • 27 percent were unsure.
  • Overall, 32 percent of Republicans said the celebrations happened while 40 percent weren’t sure.
  • 56 percent of Democrats said they didn’t occur and only 13 percent believed they did.

“The belief that American Muslims celebrated 9/11 has become part of a broader anti-Muslim narrative in American politics,” Cassino said.

Since Trump made his assertions, the media had tried to debunk him, but the poll showed many Americans just don’t trust the fourth estate:

  • Only 11 percent said they trust the media “a great deal.”
  • Forty percent said they trust the press “some.”
  • Fifteen percent said they have no trust in the media.
  • Fifteen percent of Democrats said they have “a great deal” of trust in the media compared to just seven percent of Republicans.

“While the media did everything it could to fact-check these claims and put out reports saying that they didn’t happen the way they were being described, it doesn’t seem like that fact-checking had much of an effect and the reason for that is that many Americans simply don’t trust the media,” Cassino said.

Education levels factored into responses as well:

  • 58 percent of Americans with a college degree said the celebrations did not happen.
  • 36 percent of those who never attended college said the celebrations didn’t occur.

Trump’s specific claims — of thousands of people celebrating, and of such celebrations being shown on TV — have been roundly disproven. PolitiFact and the The Washington Post couldn’t find any sign such footage exists, even after searches of television transcripts from the time. No footage has surfaced on social media, in mainstream news, on political blogs or in alternative media. No network has pointed to any archive of its own saying such footage exists.

Still, accounts of smaller celebrations have persisted, even as they've been denied by several political and law enforcement leaders. Hundreds of people have taken to New Jersey 101.5's Facebook page to say they remember celebrations — though only some described seeing them personally. Many others described seeing reports on television, or being told about celebrations by people they trust.

Monday, New Jersey Advance Media published a report quoting a retired Jersey City police officer saying he did indeed break up a small group of people celebrating, though he didn't file a report on it at the time. It also quoted two residents living near Journal Square who said they saw small celebrations there.

The poll was conducted by telephone from Dec. 4 through 8 among a random national sample of 1009 registered voters. The margin of error is +/-3.8 percentage points.

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at kevin.mcardle@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.

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