George Bush has lost half his support in the Arab American community. While in the elections of 2000, he won 45.5% of Arab American votes (Gore won only 38%), this time he is battling to win 28%, according to a recent poll conducted in mid-January 2004 by Zogby International (ZI) for the Arab American Institute (AAI). This is a further drop from the 33.5% Bush was predicted in July 2003.
It will be interesting to see what effect these figures will have on Bush's policy towards Iraq and Palestine. Seventy per cent of Arab American voters say that Middle East policy is an important factor for them in deciding how to vote, according to the AAI poll that has a margin of error of +/- 4.5 per cent. Civil liberties and treatment of immigrants were other key issues, especially because thousands of Arabs have personal memories of being rounded up after 9/11. Bush knows that he is unpopular among the Arab communities. Now he has to look at the electoral statistics in the face, will this affect his policy?
Pollsters put emphasis on the fact that Arab Americans are concentrated in several 'key' states, such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, giving the community more strategic importance than their numbers would seem. In previous elections, even a few votes have swung results in these states, especially in Florida in the previous elections.
In the last elections in 2000, Bush's higher support among the Arab community may have even helped him clinch the photo finish election. This time, all the indicators are pointing to him losing tens of thousands of votes among Arab Americans, precisely in the most marginal areas.
There are over 3.5 million American citizens of Arab origin and their numbers are growing by the year. In terms of size, the Arab American vote is just under half the size of the USA Jewish community, but its influence is set to rise.
Where will the Arab votes go? Forty per cent of Arab Americans would vote for “any Democrat,” while the remaining 32 per cent would either vote for an independent candidate or are still undecided as to who they would support for president.
With the Democrats still choosing their candidates, Arab Americans also have an important role to play in the primaries. In some of the primaries, Democrat ballot papers are being printed in Arabic in a bid to encourage Arab Democrats to vote and feel more involved in the party. In the past similar tactics attracted many Hispanics and Poles.
But one-third of Arab Democrats are still undecided. Just over a third supports Vermont Governor Howard Dean., the only candidate to register over 10% of the Arab vote, according to the AAI poll. Retired General Wesley Clark follows with 9%, Senator John Kerry, 6% and Senator Joseph Lieberman, 5%, with Congressman Richard Gephardt winning four per cent. Senator John Edwards and Congressman Dennis Kucinich each received the support of 3% of Arab American Democratic voters.
The only area where Bush's support has not completely dropped is among Arab Republicans (57%). Also, 37% of Arab Americans indicate that they would be more likely to support him if the administration follows a less rigidly pro-Israel approach and eases up on civil liberties.
From his handling of 9/11 to his policy to Arab-Israel negotiations and the war on Iraq, Bush's term has had enormous implications for all Arabs, both inside and outside America. Arab Americans, however, have had much less impact on him. The next 9 months may well be the start of a change.
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )