Demographics and Ethnic Publics


Effective public relations requires a good understanding of publics. Practitioners are limited by lack of personal familiarity, by stereotypes, or by outdated information. This section offers some data and insight into various ethnic groups, including two--American Indians and Arab Americans/Muslims--who often are less known than other ethnic and minority communities.


Updated Spring 2016 as a supplement to Professor Smith's textbooks
Strategic Planning for Public Relations and Becoming a Public Relations Writer, (Routledge/Taylor and Francis).


First, a Short Quiz

What % of US population is...
...speaks a language other than English at home


What ethnic/racial/religious group...
...largest minority in US
...uses Facebook most TV most
...most bloggers & Twitterers
...votes more than national norm (two correct answers)
...leads national averages in educational achievement


Arab Americans & American Muslims:
...religion most common among Arab Americans
...percentage of New York residents who are Muslim
...% of Muslim Americans who are immigrants or first-generation
What's the difference between Arab Americans & American Muslims


American Indians:
Population growing, shrinking or stable?
Do all American Indians speak the same native language?
What percentage of American Indians live on reservations?
What % of American Indian tribes run casinos?


What is most important political/social issue of gay voters?


What percentage of Italian Americans are involved with organized crime?




U.S. Population (2010 Census)

318.9 million Total 
63% White
17% Hispanic
13% African American 
5% Asian American 
1% Native American/Hawaiian/Alaskan
2% mixed

Changing Face of America

33 million (11%) native born with at least one foreign-born parent

... 1 in 5 children in America is immigrant or has immigrant parents (compare 1 in 10 in 1980)



Language Spoken at Home

82% English only

11% Spanish

4% Other Indo-European languages

3% Asian languages

1% Other




Answers to questions

What % of US population is...
...non-white - 37%
...foreign-born - 12%
...Language Other Than English at home - 12%


What ethnic group...
...largest minority in US - Hispanic
...uses Facebook most - Asian American TV most - African American
...most bloggers & Twitterers - White
...fastest-growing - Arab American
...votes more than national norm - Gay/Lesbian, Arab, Muslim
...Muslim lead in education


Arab Americans:
...what religion most common - Catholic
...% of immigrants or first-generation - 66%


American Indians:
Population growing
Speak 200 languages
Percentage living on reservations - 1/3
What % of American Indian tribes run casinos? 40%


What is most important political/social issue of gay voters? Economy


What percentage of Italian Americans are involved with organized crime? .0025% (1 in 40,000)




American Indians Stereotypes vs. Reality

Of the many populations within American society, few are more assaulted by stereotypes than are Native Americans. Consider the following facts in light of common stereotypes.


The 2010 U.S. Census reported 5.2 million American Indians, less than half of them of mixed ancestry. With nearly 2 percent of the total U.S. population, the collective Native population is the smallest minority group based on race. The largest Native nations are Cherokee, Navajo, Choctaw, Chippewa, and Sioux.


A comprehensive designation for American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians sometimes is used. Half told the Census Bureau that they preferred the term “American Indian” and 38 percent preferred “Native American.”


There are 565 federally recognized tribes in the US, plus another 250 or so seeking federal recognition. Each tribe is an autonomous and self-governing entity whose sovereignty is recognized by the federal government and whose lands are legally distinct from state lands that encircle them. Thus, in significant ways, tribal laws replace state law. Because tribes are autonomous, it is not appropriate to consider American Indians a single political entity. Official membership and citizenship eligibility varies by tribe.


Here are some facts that put stereotypes in a different light:


  • Growth. The Native population is growing fast. While the total U.S. population grew less than 10 percent between 2000 and 2010, the American Indian/Alaska Native population increased by more than 39 percent, putting them among the fastest-growing populations.

  • Multiethnic/Multiracial. Many of these are multiethnic and multiracial people with some Native heritage. Additionally, 7 million Americans claim some Indian ancestry but are not officially counted within the Native population.

  • Language. Native peoples of North America are richly diverse. About 200 languages are spoken by half a million people in the US and Canada, many with very different linguistic roots and sophisticated grammar. About 28 percent of the Indian population speaks a language other than English at home.

  • Reservations. More than three-fourths of American Indians live outside traditional tribal areas. Only 22 percent of Indians live on 334 reservations.

  • Population Areas. Native populations are concentrated in 10 states (led by Oklahoma, Arizona, California, Texas, and New Mexico). Only three Eastern states (New York, North Carolina, and Michigan) have sizable Native populations.

  • Age. As a group, American Indians are younger than the general population. Their median age is 29, compared with 37 for the population as a whole.

  • Poverty. Prosperity is increasing among American Indians. While 25 percent live below the poverty level, this is the same as most other ethnic and racial groups in America. Economically, Native Americans are second only to Asian Americans for income through minority-owned businesses. They also show an 84 percent growth in business ownership, particularly in service, construction, and retail businesses.

  • Casinos. Two-thirds of tribes do not run casinos. For those that do operate reservation-owned casinos, it is a $5 billion industry.

  • Education. School dropout rates are higher among Indians than any other population group. Nevertheless, 77 percent of adult Indians have a high school degree (compared with 86 percent of the total U.S. population). More than half of high school graduates attend college and 13 percent hold a bachelor’s degree.

  • Mainstream Society. Contemporary Indians are part of mainstream American life. They operate radio and television stations, run public relations agencies, sponsor colleges, and work in every occupation. New York City and Los Angeles are the two biggest cities for Native-owned businesses.

  • Health. Though life expectancy among Native Americans is 10 years less than the national average, health is steadily improving. Suicide rates are decreasing. Alcoholism remains high, and many deaths are accidental and alcohol related.

  • Taxation. Indians pay federal income tax, state income tax except on income earned on reservations, sales tax on off-reservation purchases, and off-reservation property tax. Federal and tribal laws, but not state laws, generally apply on reservations.

  • Governance. Some tribes and nations are led not by chiefs but by presidents, governors, or chairmen/chairwomen. Some are governed by councils.

  • Religion. Many American Indians participate in what is loosely called Native American religion, often a spiritual rooting in life rather than a formal religious structure. Others are members of mainstream Christian denominations: Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox; a few are Muslim. Additionally, many people combine Christianity with Native religious practices and beliefs.

  • Media. American Indians have national newspapers and radio programs. They are increasingly exercising a presence in public relations and the media. Most tribes have their own public relations department or functions, as do many Native-related organizations, such as the National Native American Law Students Association, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the (Canadian) Assembly of First Nations, and the (Catholic) Tekakwitha Conference.

  • Famous American Indians. Actors Graham Greene, Adam Beach, Benjamin Bratt, Lou Diamond Phillips, Angelina Jolie; singers Cher, Miley Cyrus; dancer Maria Tallchief; astronaut John Herrington; Congressman Ben Nighthorse Campbell; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Caput.


Public relations strategists will be mindful of such diversity among the Native communities. In particular, communicators should be careful not to adopt icons and images of one Indian group and project it upon all.


Many Indians come from the Northeast and Southeast where buffalo never roamed. The stereotype of the Plains Indian with feathered headdresses and teepees simply does not apply to the Navajo and Apache of the Southwest, the Salish and Yakama of the Northwest, nor the Mohegan, Seminole, or Haudenoshaunee (Iroquois) of the Eastern states. Additionally, not all Indians hold powwows; some instead have fiestas or festivals.


The Public Relations Society of America includes Native Americans in its Multicultural Affairs committee, and several Native-owned public relations agencies exist within the profession.

Treaty, taxation, and casino-related issues are leading some Native Americans to get involved with government. Lobbying and the use of news media are increasing, as is activism in some areas. In New York, for example, the six nations of the Haudenoshaunee fight the state’s sporadic attempts to collect sales taxes on tribal lands, which they see as a clear violation of federal treaties and law.


What’s the value of all this information? It can serve as a reminder that stereotypes are inaccurate.


Are there differences between Native Americans and others? Certainly. Some are positive: close families, respect for the environment, appreciation of heritage. Some are negative: higher school dropout rates, higher rates of alcoholism. But the stereotypes often perpetuated through movies, advertising, and other forms of media are outdated at best, and often demeaning and hurtful—and thus of little value to an ethical and accurate strategic communicator.



Arab Americans & American Muslims


What little most Americans know about Arabs and Muslims they learn through the media, which—whether news or entertainment—tends to continue negative and misleading stereotypes. Islamic and Arab publics are oversimplified by outsiders, but a good public relations strategist will work contacts within the Arab and Islamic communities to help understand the sometimes-subtle differences.


First off, note the double focus of this section. The public generally confuses Arab (member of an ethnic group originating in the Middle East) and Muslim (member of a religious group known as Islam). The two are not the same. Most Arab Americans are not Muslims, and most Muslims are not Arab.


Arab Americans

Here are some facts about Arab Americans (much of it based on information from the Arab American Institute and Zogby Polling):

  • Population. Though statistics are a bit unreliable, most reports indicate that the US is home to about 3.5 million Arab Americans. About 94 percent live in metropolitan areas.
  • Ancestry. Nearly half of all Arab Americans (47 percent) trace their ancestry to Lebanon; most of their families came to the US a century ago. Other Arab Americans are from Arabia (14 percent), Syria (11 percent), and Egypt and Palestine (both 6 percent), with smaller numbers from Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, and other countries in the Middle East and northern Africa. About a quarter of all Arab Americans claim mixed ancestry.
  • Immigrants. Most Arab Americans were born in the US. Only about 40 percent are immigrants or children of immigrants. The largest wave of immigration began in the late 1800s.
  • Growth. Arab Americans are one of the fastest-growing minority in the US, with a 30 percent growth between 1990 and 2000 according to the federal census.
  • Politics. Politically they tend toward the Democratic party. A Zogby poll indicated that 62 percent voted Democratic, 25 percent Republican. This is a shift from previous voting patterns that favored the Republican party, a change observers say reflects Arab American dissatisfaction with the Iraq War.
  • Education. About 85 percent of adult Arab-Americans have a high school degree. More than 40 percent have a bachelor’s degree (compared to about 30 percent for Americans in general).
  • Economics. Arab Americans generally have a higher household income than the U.S. average. They are more likely to run their own businesses.
  • Religion. Two-thirds of Arab Americans are Christian. About 35 percent are Catholic (mainly Latin-rite, Maronite, or Chaldean), 18 percent Orthodox, and 10 percent Protestant. About a third are Muslim (according to a Zogby International Survey of 2007). Some Christian religious groups are historically rooted in the Arab community, such as the Catholic Maronites of Lebanon, the Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt, and the Chaldean Catholics in Iraq.
  • Famous Arab Americans. Singer Frank Zappa; actors Natalie Portman, Vince Vaughn, Jamie Farr, Kathy Najimy; athletes Andre Agassi, Doug Flutie; Apple founder Steve Jobs; politicians Darrell Issa, John Sununu


American Muslims

Here are some related facts about Americans who are Muslims, adherents to the religion of Islam, making it the third-largest religious group in the US after Christianity and Judaism. The following data is drawn from the Census Bureau, the State Department, and the Hartford Institute on Religious Practice.

  • Population. Most reports indicate that the US is home to about 4 million Muslims, though some internal sources estimate twice that number. Most live in cities, with highest concentrations in California (where 20 percent of American Muslims reside), New York State (16 percent), Illinois (8 percent), and Indiana and New Jersey (4 percent each). The annual growth rate is about 6 percent, compared to less than 1 percent for the total U.S. population. Muslim populations are growing six times faster than the general population, and Muslims have a younger population than the country overall.
  • Immigration. About 70 percent of American Muslims are immigrants or children of immigrants.
  • Ancestry. In general, the Islamic community subdivides into four nearly equal segments: Southeast Asians; African Americans; Arabs; and others (Turks, Kurds, Iranian/Persians, Berber/Moroccans, and so on.)
  • Education. Muslims lead national averages in education. About 67 percent of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree (compared to 30 percent of the general population); 32 percent have a master’s degree or doctorate (compared to 9 percent of the general population).
  • Income. American Muslims have higher incomes than the general population, and often are found in engineering, computing, and medicine; they are under-represented in journalism and law and are less likely than others to own their own businesses.
  • Religious Diversity. There is much religious diversity within Islamic America. Only about half the Muslim population—about 2 million people—are affiliated with more than 1,250 Islamic centers, mosques, and other prayer locations. These are represented in every state, with the largest numbers in California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. About 30 percent of mosque members are converts. The largest groups in mosque membership are South Asian Americans (33 percent), African Americans (30 percent), and Arab Americans (25 percent). Most U.S. mosques are intercultural, with members of various ethnic backgrounds. In general, political and social divisions in the Middle East among Sunni, Shi’ite, Sufi, and Wahabi Muslims and homegrown American sects such as the Nation of Islam have had only minimal effect on most American mosques.
  • Religious Practice. Mosques operate about 200 day schools and 500 Sunday schools, and there are six schools of higher learning. But 97 percent of Islamic children acquire religious education in their homes, where most religious practice is based. Only about 4 percent of American Muslims participate in weekly religious services, compared with 15 percent of American Jews and 40 percent of Christians.
  • Politics. The first Muslim to be elected to Congress is Keith Ellison, a Democratic congressman from Minnesota elected in 2007. The following year another Muslim, Andre Carson, a Democratic congressman from Indiana. In 2008, 89 percent of American Muslims voted for Barack Obama and 85 percent in 2012—a significant change from the 2000 election when 72 percent voted Republican. Muslims are becoming more politically active. Nearly 80 percent are registered to vote, and 91 percent of those registered say that they vote.
  • Famous American Muslims. Comic Dave Chappelle, Aasif Mandvi; musicians Ice Cube, Mos Def, Snoop Dogg; model Imam; athletes Mike Tyson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal; writers Fareed Zakaria, Reza Aslan.



Hispanic Americans

Hispanics largest minority (55-mil)
US population: 17% 
Growth (1990-2000): 58% 
Growth projection 2060: 30% of population

50% voting (2012)

63% of Hispanic children live with two parents (compare 69% national average)

Buying power: $206-bil 1994. $580-bil 2002 (projection 2010 $1-tril)
13 hours daily consuming media, 8-18-year (compare 8.5 hours white)


Country of origin
64% Mexico
10% United Stated (Puerto Rico)
4% Cuba
4% El Salvador


State of residence

55% CA, FL, TX (Other NY, IL, CO, AZ, NJ)

Largest ethnic minority in 21 states

US has third-largest Hispanic population in the world (following Mexico with 106-mil and Colombia with 44.4-mil)

Median age of Hispanic Americans: 27.4 (compare 36.4 general US population)
1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses generate $222-billion revenue

$550-mil spent on Hispanic media 1988
46% TV (SIN 241 affiliates, 121 cable, 120 radio)
33% radio
9% print


Education: 65% have high school diploma; 14% have bachelor's degree


Communication, Public Relations and Marketing to Hispanic audiences:
Give detailed product info

Product demos

Use strong visual images

Stick to literalism

Use testimonials (Hispanics less skeptical)

Colorful, upbeat environment

Tip: Pleasing the family is important

Be neutral in accent, appearance, lifestyle

Use informal Spanish language

Avoid translated or dubbed commercials




Asian Americans

US population: 5% 
Growth (1990-2000): 46.3% 
Growth projection 2020: 18.5-mil 

48% voting (2012)


24% Chinese (Growth 48% since 1990)

18% Filipino (Growth 30%

16% Indian (Growth 114%)

11% Vietnamese (Growth 89%)

10% Korean (Growth 35%)

8% Japanese (Loss -9%)

13% Other/Mixed/Part Asian


Economics: Buying power: $45-bil 1994. $579-bil 
Average: $38,000 
Save 20% of income 
44% college graduates

Save 20% of income 

Media & Communication

Media patterns mirror white usage 
Purchasing decisions jointly (husband & wife) 
Purchasing decisions based on...

1. WOM (85%)

2. Advertising (48%)

3. Past experience (38%)

4. Consumer Reports (24%)


Marketing patterns

High growth

High income

High education

High concentration

High involvement

High fragmentation



African Americans


Population: 13%

65% voting (2012)


Buying power: $42-bil 1974. $214-bil 1984. $646-bil 2002

Average income: $25,970 household; $49,752 married household; half of households headed by females

Growth in both middle & under class

Marketers spend $700-million to reach AAs 

Media use

More radio than whites

Highest TV viewing group

Prefer magazines more than whites (Ebony 1.3-mil)

Low readership of local newspapers


Public Relations and Marketing to African American Audiences:
Take ads more literally

Like copy & visuals that directly correspond

Prefer lifestyle appeals

People in real situations

Less responsive to talking heads

Like ads w/ variety of cultures

Like ads w/ positive images of black life




Social Media & Demographics

Facebook weekly: 71% Asian, 53% Black, 52% Hispanic
YouTube weekly: 51% Asian, 40% Black, 45% Hispanic
Twitter: 82% White, 7% Black, 5% Asian; 5% Hispanic

8.5 hours daily consuming media - White
13 hours, Black
13 hours, Hispanic

Bloggers in America
66% white, 19% Hispanic, 12% Black, 3% Asian


Social media profile
83% White, 71% Black, 52% Hispanic