US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Turbulent times

A poll released by the Arab American Institute indi­cated that the American public’s view of Muslims and Arabs had improved since July.
The poll results showed favour­able opinions of Arabs stood at 42% of those questioned, an increase of 7%, while 32% said they had unfa­vourable views of Arabs. Respond­ents’ answers indicated that Mus­lims were viewed favourably by 43% of those asked, an increase of 9%, and unfavourably by 34%.
Views of Arab Americans and American Muslims were even higher, with both groups regarded favourably by most of their fel­low citizens. Arab Americans were seen favourably by 52% (unfavour­ably by 23%) of respondents and American Muslims by 51% (unfa­vourably by 27%). Almost 60% of those polled said they oppose al­lowing law enforcement to profile Arab Americans or American Mus­lims and 56% acknowledged that both communities suffered from increased discrimination.
The poll of 1,514 likely voters — people most inclined to act on their political opinions — was conducted by Zogby Analytics from October 19-25.
On the issue of so-called hate crimes, 47% of respondents said hate crimes against Muslims had increased. By contrast, 41% said that hate crimes against African Americans had increased and 31% said hate crimes against Jewish Americans had increased.
Zogby Analytics suggested that the rise in favourable opinions of Arabs and Muslims may be the re­sult of the violent white suprema­cist rally August 12 in Charlottes­ville, Virginia, which served to heighten Americans’ sensitivity to racism and prejudice.
On one issue affecting the Arab and Muslim communities, how­ever, the news was less uplifting. While 33% of respondents (includ­ing 52% of Republican-leaning Americans) said they would sup­port a ban on “immigrants and travellers from the Middle East,” 48% opposed such a ban and 19% said they were undecided.
Another concerning result had to do with Arab Americans work­ing for the US government: 28% of respondents agreed that “their ethnicity would influence their de­cision-making” and 34% said that Muslim Americans would be influ­enced by their religion if given “an important position of influence in the government.”
The poll results revealed a pro­nounced partisan split, with opin­ions varying widely depending on whether the respondent identified as a Democrat or a Republican. Re­publican voters were significantly more hostile to both Arabs and Muslims than Democrats.
For example, although a plural­ity of Americans asked said they oppose banning Muslim or Middle Eastern immigrants or visitors from entering the United States, 60% of self-identified Trump supporters said they favour banning immi­grants and visitors from the Mid­dle East; only 12% of self-described Trump opponents voiced support for such a ban with 72% opposing.
Similarly, 51% of Republican re­spondents expressed the opinion that Muslims would be influenced by their religion if given positions of influence in the US government but only 21% of self-described Democrats questioned expressed such a fear.
The partisan divide was also stark on questions pertaining to US policy in the Middle East and may explain policies adopted by the Trump ad­ministration. Among Republicans, for example, nearly 70% said they had a favourable view of Israel but only 20% stated a favourable view of Palestinians. Most Democratic respondents said they have more fa­vourable views of Israel but by a no­tably narrower margin: 55% to 43%.
While 58% of Democrats in the poll said they agreed that the Unit­ed States should “strike a balance between the Israelis and the Pal­estinians,” 37% of Republicans fa­voured an even-handed approach.
Although the poll was conduct­ed prior to US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would recognise Jerusalem as Isra­el’s capital and take steps to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 33% of Republicans and 12% of Democrats asked said they favoured moving the embassy. A plurality, 35% of both Democrats and Republicans, said they were unsure about moving the embassy.
It has been widely acknowledged that public opinion in the United States on a host of issues has be­come more partisan over the past decade and that phenomenon has intensified since Trump’s election in 2016. The Zogby poll showed that attitudes towards Arabs and Mus­lims and opinions about the Middle East strongly reflect the partisan divide.
Mark Habeeb
is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.