by James J. Zogby
While, as president, Donald Trump has worked to cultivate a relationship with Arab leaders, the antipathy towards Arabs and Muslims that he and his party have cultivated in recent years continues to have a worrisome impact on American public opinion and policy.
Recent polling conducted three weeks after Trump’s summits in Saudi Arabia, establishes the persistence of a deep and disturbing partisan divide in American attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims. On many questions, the views of Democrats and Republicans are exactly the opposite of one another, with Republican attitudes toward the two communities being extremely negative and the views of Democrats being overwhelming positive. For example, even after Trump’s visit, only 18% of Republicans have a favorable view of Muslims while only 20% have favorable views of Arabs. This stands in marked contrast to the 59% and 58% of Democrats who are favorably inclined toward Muslims and Arabs, respectively.
These are some of the observations that can be gleaned from the latest Zogby Analytics poll conducted for the Arab American Institute in mid-June of this year. The AAI/ZA poll surveyed 1,012 voters nationwide.
AAI/ZA have annually examined US opinion on these issues for two decades in order to better understand attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims and the challenges faced by Arab Americans and American Muslims. As a result, it is possible to observe changes over time.
It was during the 2010 congressional elections that the GOP first attempted to exploit fear of Muslims for partisan political purposes. While the effort did not have an appreciable impact on the election, itself, the continuation of this effort during the next two election cycles has resulted a sizable shift in Republican attitudes not only toward Arabs and Muslims, but Americans either of Arab ancestry or the Muslim faith.
AAI/ZA polling conducted in December of 2015, after 6 years of anti-Muslim campaigning, shows the “mirror image” effect in place with Democrats recording 47% favorable/28% unfavorable attitudes toward American Muslims as compared with Republican’s 25% favorable/53% unfavorable attitudes.
If there has been any “Trump effect” on attitudes, it has been to increase the favorable attitudes of Democrats toward Arabs and Muslims. For example, Democrats’ favorable attitudes toward Arab Americans increased from 51% in 2015 to 58% this year, while the positive rating given to American Muslims jumped from 47% to 61%. Meanwhile, Republican favorable attitudes toward American Muslims remained at a low 25%, while dropping from 34% in 2015 to 31% for Arab Americans.
Even more pronounced are the differences in attitudes between those who identify as Trump voters versus those who say they voted for Hillary Clinton. Clinton supporters give a 62% favorable rating to Arab Americans and a 64% rating to American Muslims. Only 32% of Trump supporters view Arab Americans positively and only 28% rate American Muslims positively.
This is not just a question of “liking or not liking” the two communities, these negative attitudes have consequences for government policy. With Republicans in control of the White House, Congress, and most state governments, the attitudes of the Republican voters matter to GOP officeholders.
What our polling shows is that on issues that affect the lives of Arab Americans and American Muslims ranging from immigration to civil liberties, the partisan divide is substantial and explains, in part, Republican support for policies hostile to both groups.
For example, while a plurality of Americans (48% to 30%) oppose restricting rights in the name of security, Republicans and Trump voters are in favor of such policies. And while Americans are evenly divided on whether law enforcement are justified in using ethnic or religious profiling in dealing with Arab Americans and American Muslims, Republicans and Trump voters support such profiling by greater than four to one (in the case of Trump voters 63% in favor with only 14% opposed).
And while a significant majority of all Americans agree that there has been an increase in discrimination and hate against Arab Americans and American Muslims, breaking down the numbers we find a huge partisan divide. For example, in response to the question “is there an increase of discrimination against Arab Americans” 53% say “yes”, 20% say “no” (Democrats are 73% “yes”/10% “no”; while Trump voters are 31% “yes”/39% “no”).
The same divide is in evidence with regard to Trump’s proposals to ban immigrants and travelers who are Muslim or who are from Middle East countries, especially Syria. By a margin of 45% to 31%, American voters oppose such a ban, while Republicans strongly support a ban by a margin of 50% for it to only 24% opposed.
As we have found in previous polling, these negative attitudes not only increase the prospect of hate crimes being committed against both communities (note: hate crimes against both have increased dramatically in the past year), they also translate into suspicion about whether or not Arab Americans or American Muslims can be trusted to faithfully perform their duties if appointed to a government post. In December of 2015 we found that 48% of Republicans had no confidence that an Arab American could be trusted in such a post, while 63% had no confidence that an American Muslim could be trusted.
This situation is of deep concern to Arab Americans and American Muslims. We have, in the past, experienced discrimination, been victims of hate crimes, and endured painful political exclusion. It is clear that sustained hostile campaigns either by hardline supporters of Israel or, now, by some leading Republicans have taken a toll on our communities. They must be combated until our political discourse is freed from the scourge of hate, negative stereotyping, and scapegoating.
James J. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute. Photo: Donald Trump (by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)