skip to main content
Americans Felt Uneasy Toward Arabs Even Before September 11

Americans Felt Uneasy Toward Arabs Even Before September 11

Majority supports increased security measures even for Arabs who are United States citizens

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A review of polling data measuring attitudes toward Arabs over the past decade suggests that the American public has generally held somewhat negative views of Arabs even before the recent terrorist attacks on September 11. Polls conducted since the attacks show that a significant minority of Americans report having become less positive toward Arabs. Additionally, about three out of 10 Americans say that in the last two weeks, they have heard negative comments about Arabs living in the United States, and about half to 60% are willing to support increased security measures aimed specifically at Arabs in the United States.

Americans Traditionally Have Not Held Very Positive Views of Arabs

Available historical data suggest that a negative image of Arabs existed before the September 11 attacks. A March 1993 Gallup poll, conducted shortly after a terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center, showed that just 39% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Arabs, while 32% had an unfavorable opinion and 29% had no opinion. An ABC News poll, conducted during the Persian Gulf crisis in February 1991, found that 43% of Americans said they had a high opinion of Arabs while 41% said they had a low opinion. In that poll, majorities of Americans said the following terms applied to Arabs: "religious" (81%), "terrorists" (59%), "violent" (58%) and "religious fanatics" (56%).

A July 1993 Gallup poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans believed that there were "too many" immigrants from Arab countries entering the United States, while just 6% thought there were too few and 24% thought the number was about right. The poll was conducted at a time when most Americans thought immigration on the whole should be decreased. Still, Arab countries topped the list of areas from which Americans said "too many" immigrants were coming to this country, followed closely by Latin American and Asian countries, with African and European countries well behind. Sixty percent of respondents in an April 1998 New York Times poll agreed that "Arab-Americans are more loyal to Arab countries than to the United States," while 26% disagreed.

In 1995, following the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, many Americans believed that Arab terrorist groups were responsible before the investigation uncovered Timothy McVeigh as the perpetrator of the crime. Nevertheless, six in 10 Americans thought media coverage of the bombing had been fair to Muslims and Arabs, while 28% thought it was unfair.

Americans' Ratings of Arab Countries Are Low

Earlier this year, Gallup asked Americans to say whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of 26 different countries around the world. From that list, the four lowest-rated countries were Arabic or Middle Eastern: Libya, Iraq, Iran and the Palestinian Authority. Americans were more positive about two other Arab nations -- Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- but these placed well behind the North American and European countries on the list.

Next, I'd like your overall opinion of some foreign countries. First, is your overall opinion of [RANDOM ORDER]very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable? (How about … ?)

2001 Feb 1-4

Total favorable

Total unfavorable

%

%

Canada

90

7

Australia

85

8

Great Britain

85

9

Italy

78

12

France

77

17

Germany

75

16

Japan

73

21

Brazil

69

17

Mexico

67

26

Egypt

65

23

Israel

63

32

The Philippines

63

25

Taiwan

63

22

India

58

30

South Africa

57

33

Russia

52

42

Saudi Arabia

47

46

Vietnam

46

44

China

45

48

North Korea

31

59

Colombia

30

59

Cuba

27

68

The Palestine Authority

22

63

Iran

12

83

Libya

11

75

Iraq

9

85

Since the attacks, about half of Americans (51%) now say they feel less favorably toward Afghanistan, 41% feel less favorably toward the Palestinians, and 31% feel less favorably toward Muslims living abroad, according to a September 13 CNN/Time poll.

Attitudes Since the Terrorist Attacks

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted September 14-15 finds that 35% of Americans say they now have less trust in Arabs living in this country, while 63% say their level of trust has not changed. Americans with a high school education or less are more likely than those with college education to say they are now less trusting of Arab-Americans, by a 41% to 32% margin. Additionally, Republicans (45%) are more likely to say they have less trust in Arabs than are independents (29%) and Democrats (33%).

About one in three Americans say that since the attacks, they have heard friends, neighbors, co-workers or acquaintances make negative comments about Arabs living in this country, according to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. Negative comments about Arabs are apparently more common in conversations involving younger Americans. Four in 10 Americans below age 50 -- including 55% of those aged 18-29 -- say they have heard negative remarks about Arab-Americans, compared to just 18% of those aged 50 years and over.

Other polls have reinforced the conclusion that at least a significant minority of Americans either feel more negatively toward Arabs or perceive that such negative feelings will develop in the country. For example, a September 13-14 CBS News/New York Times poll reveals that nearly half of Americans, 46%, believe that it is very likely Arab-Americans, Muslims, and Middle Eastern immigrants will be singled out unfairly in this country. Forty-three percent in a September 13 ABC News/Washington Post poll said they think the attacks will make them more suspicious of people who they think are of Arab descent. According to the September 13 CNN/Time poll, the majority of Americans say they feel no differently toward Arab-Americans as a result of the attacks, but 27% admit to feeling less favorably.

Many Support Special Security Measures Targeting Arabs in the United States

The increased suspicion of Arabs is evident in Americans' support for additional security requirements for Arabs in the United States, including those who are United States citizens. Nearly six in 10 Americans interviewed in a September 14-15 Gallup poll favored requiring people of Arab descent to undergo special, more intensive security checks when flying on American airplanes. The public is evenly divided about whether Arabs living in this country -- including those who are U.S. citizens -- should be required to carry special identification with them. A Newsweek poll conducted September 13-14 shows that 32% of Americans think Arabs living in this country should be put under special surveillance as Japanese-Americans were following Pearl Harbor, but most Americans (62%) say it would be a mistake to target a nationality group.

Gallup

Subscribe to receive weekly Gallup News alerts.
Never miss our latest insights.


Gallup https://news.gallup.com/poll/4939/americans-felt-uneasy-toward-arabs-even-before-september.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030