A new nationwide poll shows that among likely Arab-American voters in November's U.S. presidential election, Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama holds a 21-point lead over Republican candidate Sen. John McCain. Mohamed Elshinnawi has more on what pollsters are calling an historic shift among Arab-Americans toward the Democratic Party.
Arab-American voters align very closely with other Americans on domestic issues such as the economy, jobs, health care and education. But an opinion survey by the private polling group Zogby International found that dissatisfaction with the domestic and foreign policyperformance of the Bush administration is eroding the Republican Party base among a majority of Arab-American voters.
James Zogby, brother of pollster John Zogby, is president of the Arab American Institute, which commissioned the survey released Sept. 18. James Zogby says the results confirm there is an important ideological shift taking place among Arab-American voters.
"The floor has fallen out [from] underneath the Republican Party," he says. "They have half of the strength this year that they had in 2000, and this is not a surprise. You pursue bad policies, and you get bad results."
Zogby notes that in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, the overall Arab-American vote was 44 percent for Republican George W. Bush and 38 percent for Democrat Al Gore. But this year, the survey shows 54 percent favor Obama, and just 33 percent support McCain.
Arab-American Vote Could Affect Election Outcome in Some States
Zogby says this margin could be decisive in the so-called swing states, where the contest between Democrats and Republicans is close, and where those Arab-American votes can make a big difference in the election outcome.
"I think in Michigan it will be a very significant impact, and that is why the campaigns are paying so much attention to Arab-American voters in Michigan," Zogby says. "They are 4 to 5 percent of the vote."
Zogby says Arab-Americans also can make a difference in Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.
In the eastern swing states of Virginia and Ohio, Arab-American voters comprise almost two percent of the vote. Zogby says the survey showed the most important issues for Arab-American voters are jobs and the economy, followed by the war in Iraq, Middle East peace and health care.
Arab-Americans Play Active Role in U.S. Politics
According to the latest U.S census, there are close to 3.5 million Arab-Americans in the United States. Two-thirds of them reside in just 10 states. Nadine Wahab, public affairs manager at the Arab American Institute, says, as a group, Arab-Americans are very politically active.
"We have a higher rate of voter registration. I think it is over 80 percent - third, actually, only to the Jewish and the African-American community," Wahab says. "And for voter turnout, we are also quite active. We are in the 60 percent [range]. So, as a community, we come out to vote, and we are active both on the issues and on the political stage."
The Arab American Institute has been working for the civic and political empowerment of Arab-Americans for the past 20 years. It sponsors voter registration drives, such as the Yalla (Let's Go) Vote campaign, and supports voter education events, including candidates nights, which give the community a chance to meet and question candidates from both parties.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, of Virginia, says he is impressed by the level of Arab-American participation in the U.S. political process, both nationally and locally.
"It is critical that a community as large as the Arab-American community in the United States be part of the democratic process, influence it, change it in some areas," he says. "Some areas do need to be changed, and it is not going to be changed unless the constituencies get elected officials to rethink their positions, to have an open mind and try to have a balanced policy."
Political Participation Yields Results in Some Communities
Moran says Arab-Americans should remind the candidate who wins November's election that they did their part as American citizens and that they expect the new president to be responsive to their needs. Bassam Estwani, an Arab-American activist, agrees.
"We are part of this country and this great nation, and if we do not vote, that means we isolated ourselves," he says. "So we should be active and positive, and we hope to work for a better future, so this is the way to achieve that."
Estwani says getting Arab and Muslim Americans involved in the election process can also bring important returns to communities. Their heavy involvement in the recent campaigns of both Democratic and Republican congressmen in northern Virginia resulted in both congressmen supporting the construction of a major new Islamic center in the area.