Issue Brief Title: Middle Eastern Americans and Public Opinion Key Words

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Tess McPhail

Issue Brief Title: Middle Eastern Americans and Public Opinion
Key Words:

Middle Eastern American, Public Opinion, US Census, American Arab Institute.


This issue brief examines public opinion of Middle Eastern Americans and the factors that shape public opinion, as indicated by polling data.

Key Points:

  • Exact Middle Eastern American population is in dispute largely due the fact that US Census Bureau currently does classify Middle Eastern Americans independently and instead data about this ethnic group is subsumed under the white racial category.

  • The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 attributed to negative stereotyping of Middle Eastern Americans.

  • According to a 2014 poll conducted by Zogby Analytics on behalf of the Arab American Institute, negative public opinion of Middle Eastern Americans has increased in recent years.

  • However, this data also reveals that attitudes towards Middle Eastern Americans can be improved through education and exposure.

Middle Eastern Americans are Americans of Middle Eastern ethnic cultural and linguistic heritage who identify as Middle Eastern. According to the 2010 US Census, 1,698,570 people identified as Middle Eastern American (US Census Bureau 2010). Whereas organisations such as the Arab American Institute claim there are some 3.5 million people in the US who identify as Middle Eastern American (Arab American Institute 2015). Disputes over population are largely a result of the fact that Middle Eastern Americans are not formally recognised as a distinct ethnic category and are instead classified as white for U.S. Census purposes. However the categorization of Middle Eastern American as white generally does not reflect the public opinion of Middle Eastern Americans themselves or American society at large (Kahn 2010). In response to this disjuncture between public opinion and Government categorization, in 2014 the US Census Bureau announced it would consider establishing an ethnic category for populations from the Middle East and North Africa in the 2020 Census (Krogstad 2014).
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have had a significant and lasting impact on public opinion of Middle Eastern Americans into the 21st Century. According to the Federal bureau of Investigation (FBI), there was a 1600% increase in hate crimes against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern ethnicity in 2001 from the previous year (FBI 2002). Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Middle Eastern Americans, American Muslims and those who bore physical resemblance to members of these groups, have been subjected to negative stereotyping based on an inaccurate public perception that Middle Eastern Americans and Muslim Americans are apart of a monolithic group with shared political and ideological objectives (Khun & Ecklund 2). This is problematic because according to a Washington Post news poll, 33% of Americans think that main stream Islam encourages violence against Non Muslims and 58% of Americans believe there to be more violent extremists within Islam than other religions (Deane & Fears 2006). The fact that 63% of Middle Eastern Americans identify as Christian and only 24% of Middle Eastern Americans identify as Muslim is a little known statistic (Arab American Institute 2002).
It is likely that events such as the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013 and the rise of the extremist Islamic rebel group, ISIS, have reinforced negative stereotypes of Middle Eastern Americans. As indicated by a poll released in 2014 by the Arab American Institute which suggests that public opinion of Middle Eastern Americans has not improved in recent years. According to a poll conducted by Zogby Analytics on behalf of the advocacy group, 42% of Americans believe law enforcement is justified in using profiling tactics against Muslim-Americans and Arab-Americans (Arab American Institute 2014). In addition a significant number (36%) of Americans polled indicated that they lacked confidence in the ability of Americans from Middle Eastern communities to perform their duties as Americans should they be appointed to an important government position (Arab American Institute 2014).
However, what the 2014 Zogby Analytics poll also reveals is that the majority of Americans (57%) said they did not know enough about Middle Eastern culture or history. Furthermore, those who said they knew a Middle Eastern American had 33% more favorable attitudes towards Middle Eastern Americans than those who did not know a Middle Eastern American (Arab American Institute 2014). These findings suggest that although Middle Eastern Americans are subject to negative public opinions, these opinions can be improved through exposure and education.

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Arab American Institute 2002

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Arab American Institute 2012

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Gallup 2014

Works Cited:

Arab American Institute 2015, “Demographics” viewed February 28 2015,

Arab American Institute 2014. “American Attitudes Towards Arabs and Muslims” viewed 22 February 2015,
Arab American Institute. 2002. “Religious Affiliations of Arab Americans” viewed 22 February 2015,
Deane, C & D, Fears. 2006. “Negative Perception of Islam Increasing” viewed 18 April 2015,
Federal Bureau of Statistics. 2002, “Hate Crime Fact Sheet” viewed 21 February 2015,
Gallup. 2014, “American Public Opinion About The Middle Easter” viewed 18 April 2015,

Kahan, Carrie, 2010. “Arab-American Census Activists Say ‘Check it Right’ National Public Radio, viewed 28 February 2015,

Khun, M. & K Ecklund. “Attitudes towards Muslim Americans Post 9/11” Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 7.1. (2012): 1-16. Print.
Krogstad, Jens Manuel. 2014, “Census Bureau Explores New Middle East/North African Ethnic Category” Pew Research Center, viewed 21 February 2015,

US Census Bureau. 2010, “American Fact Finder: Total Ancestry Reported”, viewed 21 February 2015,

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