This past week the Arab American Institute (AAI) released its third biannual poll of American attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims. Conducted by Zogby Analytics, 1100 likely voters were surveyed nationwide. The results were deeply troubling.
What we found was that there has been a continued erosion in the favorable ratings Americans have of both Arabs and Muslims, posing a threat to the civil rights and political inclusion of both Arab Americans and American Muslims. For example, in 2010 favorable ratings for Arabs were 43 percent. They have now declined to 32 percent. For Muslims, the ratings dropped from 36 percent in 2010, to 27 percent in the 2014 survey.
A direct consequence of this disturbing downward slide can be seen in the substantial number of Americans (42 percent) who say that they support the use of profiling by law enforcement against Arab Americans and American Muslims and a growing percentage of Americans who say that they lack confidence in the ability of individuals from either community to perform their duties as Americans should they be appointed to important government positions. Thirty-six percent of respondents felt that the decisions made by Arab Americans would be influenced by their ethnicity, while 42 percent of respondents felt that American Muslims would be negatively influenced by their religion.
Given the persistence of negative Arab and Muslim stereotypes in popular culture and the pervasive bias in media reporting, an explanation for these divides may be found in the different life experiences of these groups of Americans and the sources they utilize to get their news about the world. Other polling by Zogby Analytics demonstrates that younger Americans have developed a more inclusive and tolerant worldview as a result of their broader exposure to the internet and social media. Older Americans, on the other hand, rely on more limited traditional sources of information.
Another of the poll’s findings establishes that a majority of Americans say that they feel that do not know enough about Arab history and people (57 percent) or about Islam and Muslims (52 percent). Evidence of this lack of knowledge comes through clearly in other poll responses where respondents wrongly conflate the two communities. For example, by a two-to-one margin Americans say that they believe that most Arab Americans are Muslim, while in reality about one-third are. Similarly, opinions are evenly divided on whether the majority of American Muslims are Arab. In fact, only a one-quarter of all American Muslims are of Arab descent.