A recent nationwide poll of Arab-American opinion on the current U.S. presidential campaign indicates the Iraq war will be an important issue in determining how Arab Americans will vote in the 2008 presidential election.
Arab-American voters trend very closely to other Americans on domestic issues such as the economy, health care and education. But the opinion survey by Zogby International (an independent U.S. polling firm) found that for a majority of Arab Americans, the war in Iraq is the most important issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.
James Zogby, the brother of pollster John, is president of the Arab American Institute, which commissioned the survey released June 29th. He says that when asked to name the top two issues in this election, 61 percent of Arab Americans say it is the Iraq war, 31 percent say jobs and the economy.
"The reason why I think the Arab American numbers on Iraq are so high," Zogby says, "is because they seem to have a stronger personal connection. It might also lead us to see why Arab Americans have a different attitude toward when the U.S. should leave Iraq. While many Americans now are in favor of a phased withdrawal — in the last Los Angeles Times poll, 43 percent say phased withdrawal within a year — for Arab Americans (responding to the Zogby poll), 53 percent say a phased withdrawal."
The poll also shows 39 percent of Arab Americans identify themselves as Democrats, 26 percent as Republicans and 28 percent as independents. While the campaign is still at an early stage and the field of candidates is still crowded, Zogby says four Democrats receive double-digit support from Democratic and independent Arab-American voters:
"(Illinois) Senator Obama is the top choice with 37 percent, 33 percent say Mrs. (Hillary) Clinton (a Senator from New York), 12 percent say (former Senator John) Edwards and 10 percent say (New Mexico governor) Bill Richardson. On the Republican side, (former New York City mayor Rudolph) Giuliani is in first place, (Arizona Senator John McCain followed by (Massachusetts governor Mitt) Romney, again that is pretty much what we see in the national polls."
But when asked if they are more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, an independent candidate, or if it would depend on the candidate's views, 46 percent of the Arab American voters surveyed said it would depend on the candidate and his or her stands on the issues, not their party affiliation.
Almost two-thirds of Arab American voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who promises to take an active role in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But Zogby doubts that Arab Americans will unite as a bloc behind a single candidate.
"People will vote as they see their interest," he says. "There are Republicans who will always be Republicans and Democrats who will always be Democrats." But Zogby says there will be variations, "and I think that the variation line will continue as we have been seeing it, leaning (toward) the Democratic camp."
Zogby believes all the presidential candidates will have to take clear stands on issues like the Iraq war and the Israel-Palestine conflict if they expect to win a share of the Arab-American vote: an important prize, he notes, in several key battleground states.
"In Michigan it can be as high as 7 percent of the vote, which is very significant," he says. In so-called battleground states (Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida), whose voters are more closely divided between parties, Zogby says in previous years, the Arab-American vote has amounted to a little over 2 percent of the vote. "These are very close contested states, (and) the attention that the community gets in those states is indicative of how important it is."
The Zogby International poll also reveals that nearly eight in ten Arab Americans give a negative rating to President Bush's overall performance in office. The president polled best among a subgroup of Arab-American voters who identified themselves as Republicans. But even among this group, the Zogby poll found only a minority — 41 percent — approves of the President's performance.