Overall, the American public mood adds up to an increasing isolationism -- a reluctance to intervene internationally or even, in some cases, take sides in foreign conflicts. This is reflected in attitudes toward the Arab uprisings. In a previous poll conducted this April, the American public had a somewhat positive view of the Arab uprisings. A plurality in our newest poll believes that these uprisings are both about ordinary people seeking freedom and democracy and Islamist groups seeking power.
That's not to say that Americans don't have a favorable view of the "Arab people". Of those who want the United States to express its position in the conflicts between the Arab demonstrators and their governments, a strong majority wants the U.S. to support the demonstrators in every country we asked about, including Saudi Arabia. And yet, the overwhelming majority of the whole group of Americans polled does not want the United States to take sides at all, perhaps reflecting fear of a slippery slope leading to military intervention, or at least to more over-investment, particularly at a time of economic crisis.
Attitudes toward Islam and Muslims have also changed significantly over the past decade. Strikingly, right after 9/11, more Americans had a positive view of the Islamic religion than a negative view. Over the decade, this sentiment has turned sour, with our latest poll recording a majority of Americans holding a negative view of Islam, including many of those who didn't have an opinion in the past who now have negative views.
This is despite the fact that a stable majority continues to think that the 9/11 attacks did not represent the intentions of mainstream Islam; that most Americans view the conflict between Islam and the West as driven more by political than cultural factors; and that most express confidence that it is possible to find common ground between Islam and the West (though this is down somewhat from late 2001). And the American public's attitudes toward the Muslim people are relatively warm, with a plurality (nearly half) expressing positive views of Muslims.
Whether or not the Arab uprisings this year will continue to project ordinary Arabs and Muslims seeking what ordinary Americans themselves hold dear -- freedom and democracy -- and continue to have a positive impact on American public attitudes remains to be seen. Whether or not the 9/11 paradigm that still holds fast regarding Arab and Muslims will be replaced by an Arab Spring paradigm will depend much on how events unfold in the streets and capitals of the Middle East in the weeks and months ahead. But what seems to be clear is that it's less 9/11 itself than the long, bloody, and complicated response to it over the past decade that has taken its toll on the American mood.