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