Negative campaign against Arabs, Muslims has consequences
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 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of Muslims while only 20 percent have favorable views of Arabs. This stands in marked contrast to the 59 percent and 58 percent 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 Dec 2015, after 6 years of anti-Muslim campaigning, shows the “mirror image” effect in place with Democrats recording 47 percent favorable/28 percent unfavorable attitudes toward American Muslims as compared with Republican’s 25 percent favorable/53 percent 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 percent in 2015 to 58 percent this year, while the positive rating given to American Muslims jumped from 47 percent to 61 percent. Meanwhile, Republican favorable attitudes toward American Muslims remained at a low 25 percent, while dropping from 34 percent in 2015 to 31 percent 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 percent favorable rating to Arab Americans and a 64 percent rating to American Muslims. Only 32 percent of Trump supporters view Arab Americans positively and only 28 percent 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 percent to 30 percent) 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 percent in favor with only 14 percent 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.
NOTE: Dr James J Zogby is the President of the Arab American Institute