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In Malaysia, Muslims More Bullish on Economy Than Non-Muslims

by Nicole Naurath

Majorities of both groups are satisfied with their standard of living


PRINCETON, NJ -- In 1971, Malaysia adopted a development model that focused on multi-sector growth and economic equality for its citizens. The New Economic Policy (NEP) included programs specifically intended to improve the economic standing of ethnic Malays and other native peoples. Since all ethnic Malays are constitutionally considered Muslim, these policies have particularly benefited the country's Muslim population, which represents about 60% of all Malaysian residents. The result of the NEP and subsequent programs has been a strong, export-led economy.

But there is another outcome evident in Malaysians' perceptions of economic conditions. Seventy percent of the country's Muslims say the country's current economic conditions are good; just less than half of non-Muslims (45%) say the same. The gap narrows somewhat when Gallup asks respondents whether their country's economy is getting better or worse, but it is still significant: 58% of Muslims feel the economy is getting better, compared with 40% of non-Muslims.

These differences can surely be attributed in part to the affirmative action programs of the NEP. Some specific provisions grant ethnic Malays and other indigenous groups discounts on real estate, while Malaysian companies making initial public offerings are required to set aside 30% of all shares for investors from these groups.

Interestingly, however, the perceptual gap between Malaysia's Muslims and non-Muslims seems to disappear when respondents are asked more specifically about their standard of living -- i.e., whether or not they are satisfied with all the things they can buy and do. About two-thirds of each group (68%) claim to be satisfied. This makes sense given the fact that the country's non-Muslims, mostly of Chinese and Indian descent, enjoyed a position of economic dominance until recent decades. Though their economic standing has been declining relative to that of ethnic Malays, on average they remain more affluent: Muslim respondents report an average monthly household income of 2,519 ringgits, compared with 3,658 for non-Muslims.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted in July 2006 with a randomly selected sample of 1,008 Malaysian residents, aged 15 and older. For results based on the sample of 547 Muslims, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±5 percentage points. For results based on the sample of 461 non-Muslims, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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