President Barack Obama weighed in recently on the storm of controversy surrounding Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s recent proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, calling such ideas a blatant appeal to Americans’ fears.
“Blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy,” Obama told National Public Radio late last week. “There is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear. Some of it justified, but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That’s what he’s exploiting during the course of his campaign.”
But a new poll from the Arab American Institute, out Monday, finds that Americans’ favorable attitudes toward Arab Americans and American Muslims have declined over the past four years, and there is a deeply partisan and demographic divide in how people view those communities.
“The results were disturbing,” says AAI President James Zogby. “On one side, younger people who have a college education, who are minorities, African American or Latino, have favorable attitudes. On the other side, you have middle-aged, middle-class whites who are born-again [Christians] or without a college education, [who] have more negative attitudes.”
Overall, the poll finds that favorable attitudes toward Arab Americans have dropped from 49 percent in 2010 to 40 percent in 2015. For attitudes toward American Muslims, that number dropped from 48 percent in 2010 to 33 percent this year.
"Internally,” Zogby says, "the Democratic and Republican split is rather significant.”
Fifty-one percent of Democrats had a favorable attitude toward Arab Americans, versus 34 percent of Republicans; while 53 percent of Republicans had unfavorable views of Arab Americans, versus 28 percent of Democrats. Forty-one percent of whites had unfavorable views of American Muslims, while the same percentage of nonwhites (African Americans, Asians and Hispanics) had favorable views of American Muslims.
The poll of 1,001 people, with a 3.2 percent margin of error, also asked whether people believed that American Muslims and Arab Americans would be influenced by their religion if they had an important position in government. Thirty-five percent of all respondents, and 48 percent of Republicans, said that the ethnicity of Arab Americans would influence their decision making. Toward American Muslims, the numbers were even higher.
“Forty-six percent [of Americans overall] said they weren’t confident religion wouldn’t get in the way,” Zogby says, adding that “63 percent of Republicans weren’t confident, as opposed to 34 percent of Democrats.”
The survey also found a severe partisan divide over whether law enforcement should be able to use profiling toward the two communities. Sixty percent of Republicans said yes, while 51 percent of both Democrats and people ages 18-29 said no.
In addition, the poll surveyed supporters of the two leading presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Half or more of Clinton supporters had favorable attitudes toward both Arab Americans and American Muslims, while 53 percent of Trump supporters had negative attitudes toward Arab Americans, and 68 percent had a negative view of American Muslims. Sixty percent of Trump supporters also said that President Obama is a Muslim.
“We find a continued slide in favorable numbers for Arab Americans and American Muslims,” Zogby says.
The anti-Muslim sentiment across the nation, and Trump’s comments after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., spurred an interfaith walk in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, called “Faith Over Fear: Choosing Unity Over Extremism.”
The walk was led by clergy from a broad range of religions, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, head of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Imam Lyndon Bilal, at Masjid Muhammad in D.C., also participated in the event.
“When you see the rhetoric of those seeking the highest office in the land, and the dangers it causes innocent people, you have to act,” Bilal told the Washington Post. “It’s important that we come together with other faiths who know us as people, who know who we really are.”