American Turban

How America’s political parties and Sikhs see each other

From the Sepia Mutiny Twitter feed, we are introduced to a study by the Arab American Institute entitled “The American Divide: How We View Arabs and Muslims” that compares the perceptions of Republicans and Democrats towards various ethnic and religious groups, including Arabs, Muslims, and Sikhs:

Arab American Institute survey responses on attitudes about various ethnic and religious groups, by political party affiliation. (source: @sepiamutiny)

Arab American Institute survey responses on attitudes about various ethnic and religious groups, by political party affiliation. Click to enlarge. (source: @sepiamutiny)

The study highlights the disparity with which voters identifying with each political party view Sikhs, Muslims and Arabs:

Of the 13 religious or ethnic groups included in the survey, only Sikhs had anywhere close to the negative ratings of Muslims and Arabs. Among all respondents, the religious group is viewed favorably 45-24 [favorable versus unfavorable], but Republicans are split 36-35, with almost a third unfamiliar. All other religious groups had strongly favorable views by margins of up to 60 percent in the cases of Presbyterians and Jews.

Overall favorability ratings for “Sikh”, “Arab” or “Muslim” were the lowest.

The disparity continues not just among the groups, but between the voters. In relation to how Sikhs are perceived, Democratic and Independent voters rated with higher favorability compared to Republican voters, who seem to also have a higher “unknown” perception. And, overall, according to the study, “…in the case of Sikhs, one in four Americans are ‘unfamiliar’ or ‘not sure'”.

Interestingly, as far how Sikhs are perceived, there is no significant generational divide. The 18-29 age cohort seems to rate Sikhs favorably in similar proportion to the age 65 and older cohort.

However, it is disconcerting that these groups – Muslims, Sikhs and Arabs – are perceived as so highly unfavorable in general and particularly by those who vote Republican, and this points to the levels of prejudice and/or ignorance that must be overcome. Perhaps this perception might also account for the reason why California candidate for Congress Ricky Gill or South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley have gone to some length to dissociate from their Sikh backgrounds.

But, let us not end the story there. What are the perceptions of Republicans and Democrats by Sikhs, Arabs and Muslims?

The Pew Forum’s recent study “Rise of Asian Americans” looked at various characteristics of the Asian American community.  While the report was criticized for its emphasis on a monolithic portrait of this diverse group, there is useful information about perceptions of subgroups within the Asian American community:

(source: Pew Forum)

(source: Pew Forum)

Indian Americans, who form the largest portion of the Sikh community, as a whole lean significantly towards the Democratic Party in this survey. Unfortunately, the Pew Forum study provided no specific information about Sikh (and Muslim) American preferences.  However, a look at other Asian American faith groups might provide parallels to point in a similar direction:

(source: Pew Forum)

(source: Pew Forum)

The chart above shows that the surveyed Hindu and Buddhist Americans (and especially the former) tend to identify with the Democratic Party, as compared to the Republican Party:

(source: Pew Forum)

(source: Pew Forum)

In this study, it is clear that Hindus and Buddhists do not affiliate so strongly with the Republicans. However, according to the Arab American Institute study, Republican-leaning voters do not hold Hindus and Buddhists in the same unfavorable light as they do Sikhs, Muslims and Arabs.

These two studies taken together do not lead to conclusions about causality; it cannot be determined that Indian American groups may lean Democrat because they feel unfavored by Republicans, or if Republican voters do not see Sikh and Muslims as favorably because these communities tend to lean Democrat. We must also consider how much the conservative Christian movement and its engagement with the Republican Party plays a role.

Conclusions that arose from the Arab American Institute study around personal associations with Muslims may provide some clues:

1. Most Americans say they do not know any Arabs or Muslims; but the 30% who do have significantly more favorable attitudes toward Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims…

3. Among those Americans who say they know any Arabs or Muslims, two-thirds have favorable attitudes toward Arab Americans and American Muslims. Among those who do not know any Arabs and Muslims, attitudes are evenly divided.

When, as mentioned above, one in four Americans surveyed are not familiar with Sikhs, these findings reinforce the role of education and outreach to address unfavorable perceptions and discrimination.



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