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As turmoil engulfs Middle East, American opinion of Muslims, Arabs slides to five-year low: Survey

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Afghanistan,Iraq,Arab Spring,Benghazi,Syria,Middle East,Becket Adams

Public opinion in the U.S. of Arabs and Muslims has steadily deteriorated over the past five years, with a growing number of Americans saying they now hold an unfavorable opinion of both groups, according to a Zogby poll released this week.

The survey, which was conducted from June 27-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, found that only 27 percent of respondents hold a positive opinion of Muslims, an eight-point decline from 2010, while only 32 percent say they think highly of Arabs.

“While the persistence of negative Arab and Muslim stereotypes is a factor in shaping attitudes toward both groups, our polling establishes that lack of direct exposure to Arab Americans and American Muslims also plays a role in shaping attitudes,” the survey reported.

“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),” the report added. “Evidence of this comes through clearly in other poll responses where respondents wrongly conflate the two communities — with significant numbers assuming that most Arab Americans are Muslim (in reality, less than a third are) or that most American Muslims are Arab (less than one-quarter are).”

The survey, which draws from the responses of 1,110 random likely U.S. voters aged 18 and older, also found that a roughly 42 percent of respondents approve of the profiling of both Arabs and Muslims by law enforcement officials, while a slightly smaller 40 percent disapproves.

And the breakdown of those who approve and disapprove of profiling isn’t entirely shocking: Fifty-four percent of self-identified Democrat respondents disapprove, 59 percent of Republicans approve and independents are split 38 percent to 37 percent in favor of approval. Younger respondents, the 18-29 crowd, disapprove of profiling 54 percent to 32 percent, while respondents aged 65 and older approve 53 percent to 34 percent.

“For me, the biggest concern in the poll is not just that people don’t like us, but what not liking us translates to,” said Jim Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute, which commissioned the poll from the firm headed by his brother, John. The brothers are of Lebanese descent.

Lastly, the poll found that a large percentage of Americans don’t trust either Arabs or Muslims to hold public office in the United States.

“[A] growing percentage of Americans say that they lack confidence in the ability of individuals from either community to perform their duties as Americans should they be appointed to an important government position,” the survey reported, adding that approximately 36 percent of respondents believe “Arab Americans would be influenced by their ethnicity,” while 42 percent say they believe “American Muslims would be influenced by their religion.”

The obvious solution to the issue, Zogby noted, is education, adding that American approval for Arabs and Muslims is largely influenced by age, politics, race and familiarity with the two groups.

“The way forward is clear. Education about and greater exposure to Arab Americans and American Muslims are the keys both to greater understanding of these growing communities of American citizens and to insuring that their rights are secured,” the report noted.

It’s worth noting that the general decline in favorability since 2010 has also coincided with massive social upheavals in the Middle East, including the violent overthrow of Libyan despot Moammar al-Gaddafi, the deadly civil war in Syria, the so-called “Arab Spring,” the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the rise of ISIS in Iraq, continued bloodshed in Afghanistan and the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorists attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi.

This could explain why the survey's older respondents — that is, those who are more likely to follow the news closely — are more inclined to be wary of the two groups than their younger counterparts.

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