Zogby Report


Submitted to:

Submitted by:
MARCH 1, 2001

Rebecca Wittman at Zogby International (315) 624-0200
John Marino at The National Italian American Foundation (202)387-0600



In the Summer of 2000, Zogby International interviewed 1,264 teenagers nationwide between the ages of 13 and 18. [Males: 591; Females: 673].

The purpose of the survey was to determine whether or not teen-agers in general and Italian American teen-agers in particular perceive stereotyping on television and in the movies and if they do, how such stereotyping affects them. Teen-agers of different ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds participated in the survey, including: Northern Europeans (446); Italian Americans (321); Eastern Europeans (56); Central/South Americans (61); African Americans (54); Asians & Pacific Islanders (28); and Middle Easterners (10). The margin of error is +/-3%/ Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Note: percentages are rounded off.

  • When asked to identify the role a person of a particular ethnic or racial background would be most likely to play in a movie or on television, teen agers cited familiar stereotypes:

    African American:  Athlete, gang member, police officer
    Arab American: Terrorist, convenience store clerk
    Asian American: Physician/lawyer, CEO, factory worker
    Hispanic: Gang member, factory worker
    Italian American: Crime boss, gang member, restaurant worker
    Jewish American: Physician/lawyer, CEO, teacher
    Irish American: Drunkard, police officer, factory worker
    Polish American: Factory worker

Movie roles that link Italian Americans with crime (44%) and portray Arab Americans as terrorists (34%) receive the highest percentages of all from the teen-agers surveyed nationally. Among the other findings:

  • 32% say African Americans are portrayed as athletes; another 31% say they are gang members while nearly 11% see African American characters as police officers.

  • 34% of the teens nationwide say that the media typecast Arab Americans as terrorists while another 49% see them as vendors or convenience store clerks.

  • Teens expect Asian Americans to have more varied roles: 19% say they are physicians or lawyers; 13% say they are likely to be executives; 12% say factory workers.

  • 27% of the teens say they see Hispanics on TV or in the movies as gang members and 17% say a Hispanic could be a factory worker.

  • Irish Americans are usually cast as drunkards (26%), police officers (15%) or factory workers (11%), according to the teens in the survey.

  • 44% of teens say that Italian Americans are most often cast as crime bosses or gang members; and 34% associate Italian Americans with restaurant workers.

  • 22% of the teens find a doctor or a lawyer on TV and in the movies is apt to be Jewish American. 10% see Jewish Americans cast as teachers.

  • Polish Americans do not fit any one stereotype, with 15% saying this ethnic group fits the image of a factory worker, and 31% of teens saying they are "not sure" what part a Polish American would play on TV or in the movies.

When asked specifically to identify the role a character of Italian background would be most likely to have in a movie or on television, most teen-agers, including Italian Americans, cited crime boss: African American teens (41%); Italian American teens (38%); Northern European teens (32%) and Jewish teens (32%).

  • When describing roles for Italian Americans, teens who view no TV are less likely to say "crime boss": 27% compared to teens who watch one to two hours a day (34%) and those who watch more than five hours a day (35%).

  • When Italian American teens were asked if their ethnic heritage was accurately portrayed on television or in the movies, 46% agreed and nearly 30% said they were proud of their TV image.

This study reveals that:
  • Teens learn the less admirable aspects of their heritage from entertainment industry stereotyping.

  • Teens' perceptions of other ethnic, religious, and racial groups are shaped by entertainment industry stereotypes.

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