You’ll Never Believe How Many Americans Think Racial Profiling at the Airport Is OK

Most people have some complaints about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Plus, many Americans feel skeptical about the way the agency operates airport security checkpoints across America. But for the most part, we all tolerate the TSA’s rules and regulations. That goes for relatively innocuous restrictions like the 3-1-1 liquids rule. Yet it also seems to apply to more disquieting policies, like the prevalence of racial profiling at airport security.

According to a recent study by Stratos Jet Charters, many Americans are OK with the more obtrusive screening techniques employed by the TSA. Plus, some even say that they don’t mind TSA agents using racial profiling at the security checkpoint.

Read on to get the inside scoop on what the researchers discovered about Americans’ opinions on the TSA’s tactics.

Some Americans say they don’t mind racial profiling at all

Nicole Moore/Data source: Stratos Jet Charters

In a survey answered by more than 1,000 respondents, Stratos Jet Charters asked Americans whether they consider racial profiling an acceptable practice for the TSA. The answer? Larger percentages of respondents than you might expect said that they didn’t have a problem with the practice. But race, understandably, plays a major role in Americans’ attitudes toward racial profiling.

Stratos Jets reports, “Those who identified as black, African-American, and multiracial or biracial were the least likely of any ethnicity to suggest racial profiling by the TSA would be acceptable in any capacity.” 11.2% of Caucasian respondents characterize the practice as “extremely acceptable.” Additionally, 11.8% of Hispanic or Latino respondents answered the same way. Yet just 4% of Black or African-American respondents, 2.2% of Asian respondents, and 0% of multiracial or biracial respondents consider the practice completely acceptable.

Many more say that racial profiling is ‘somewhat acceptable’

Nicole Moore/Data source: Stratos Jet Charters

As the survey determined, the number of people who accept racial profiling without reservations remains relatively small. After all, the percentages of respondents who characterized profiling by the TSA as “extremely acceptable” did seem pretty small. But the proportion of respondents who consider the practice “somewhat acceptable” looks a lot bigger, by comparison.

31.6% of Caucasian respondents characterize racial profiling as “somewhat acceptable” at the airport security checkpoint. 38% of Asian respondents to the survey answered the same way. 23.5% of Hispanic or Latino respondents consider the practice “somewhat acceptable.” So do 18.8% of multiracial or biracial respondents, and 18% of black or African-American respondents. So while relatively few people would give the TSA carte blanche to use racial profiling in any situation, many people seem OK with the practice happening in at least some circumstances.

But your view on racial profiling likely correlates with your politics

Nicole Moore/Data source: Stratos Jet Charters

Stratos Jet Charters identified an interesting phenomenon among respondents’ answers to the question of whether they found the TSA’s use of racial profiling techniques acceptable. The researchers behind the survey found that if you vote or otherwise identify as a Republican, you’re much more likely to accept profiling at the airport than if your allegiance lies with another party.

“According to the over 1,000 people we polled, more than 30 percent of people who identified as Republican said they felt it was extremely acceptable for screeners to profile passengers based on race during the TSA security process.” Conversely, only one in four people who said they were Libertarians felt that it was “extremely acceptable” for TSA screeners to employ racial profiling at the security checkpoint. Finally, less than 7% of independent voters said that they found racial profiling “extremely acceptable” for the TSA to engage in racial profiling. And only 3.4% of Democrats accept the practice without reservations.

Religion also emerges as a factor

Nicole Moore/Data source: Stratos Jet Charters

Race and politics seem to correlate with Americans’ views on racial profiling. Yet Stratos Jet Charters found that another factor seems to play a role, too: religion. 18.8% of respondents who identified themselves as Jewish said that racial profiling is “extremely acceptable.” They were followed closely by Catholics, 18.1% of whom characterized the practice as “extremely acceptable.”

Only 12.1% of respondents who identified themselves as Christian, Protestant, Methodist, Lutheran, or Baptist accepted racial profiling without reservations. 9.6% of respondents with no religious preference characterized racial profiling by the TSA as “extremely acceptable.” Plus, just 5.7% of those who identified as atheist or agnostic said that they consider racial profiling completely acceptable. And only 4.9% of respondents who identified their religious preference as “other” completely condone the practice.

The TSA has come under fire for racial profiling

people in the hall of the airport
There has been repeated incidents. | mariakraynova/iStock/Getty Images

Let’s get our facts straight. How much racial profiling does the TSA really do? A lot, as it turns out. The TSA has repeatedly fielded allegations of improperly profiling travelers. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) even opened a formal investigation in 2016. That investigation stemmed from the reports of one TSA employee who spoke up. The employee claimed that his supervisor directed him to “treat members of the Somali community differently from others.”

Plus, a study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on thousands of TSA documents reported that the agency’s screening methods rely on dubious behavioral science. The ACLU also reported that the TSA’s policies amount to surveillance of travelers, especially Muslims and Latinos. The TSA has said that it doesn’t profile travelers based on their ethnicity, race, or religion. Nonetheless, the ACLU warned, “Because the techniques that the TSA are using are not grounded in valid science, those techniques raise an unacceptable risk of racial and religious profiling.”

Anti-Muslim profiling goes beyond the TSA — and all the way up to Donald Trump

Muslim Ban
Racial profiling came from the highest office in the land. | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

ThinkProgress reported at the beginning of 2016 that racial profiling at airports extends far beyond the TSA. The publication explained, “A growing number of Muslims, Sikhs, and people of Middle Eastern descent are reporting incidents of racial and religious profiling while trying to board planes, sparking concerns that rising anti-Islam sentiment is triggering a new wave of discrimination at airports.” Policies that support such profiling remain in place. But a wave of anti-Islam hatred has worsened profiling by the TSA, by airline companies, and even by passengers.

That report surfaced a full year before Donald Trump signed an executive order barring travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. (At the time, the ban included Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.) The executive order constituted just the first version of what became a much-litigated fixture of the American news cycle in 2017. Support for racial profiling does, in fact, extend far beyond the TSA and into the White House.

Americans have long condoned racial profiling

Nicole Moore/Data source: Gallup

It’s tempting to blame popular support for racial profiling on a single scapegoat. (Like Donald Trump’s travel ban, for instance.) But the data doesn’t bear out that hypothesis. Gallup reported in 2004 that “a majority of Americans do not believe racial or ethnic profiling is justified in any context.” Yet that didn’t seem to apply to airport security checkpoints. A full 45% of respondents to Gallup’s survey felt that racial profiling is justified at the airport. A few years later, in 2010, 71% of respondents told Gallup that they endorsed the use of racial profiling to identify airline passengers for extra screening.

Interestingly enough, a Gallup poll conducted in 1999 provided a sharply different picture. 81% of Americans who responded at the time said that they disapproved of racial profiling. However, that pre-9/11 survey didn’t ask about racial profiling at the airport. Instead, it focused on traffic stops by police officers.

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