Arab-American Democrats at the Democratic National Convention (Photo via Huffington Post)
The Arab-American community still largely supports President Barack Obama, but 15 percent of Arabs who voted for Obama in 2008 have not declared their support for him this year, according to a new poll released by the Arab American Institute (AAI).
52 percent of all Arab-Americans say they will vote for Obama, compared to 28 percent who have declared their support for Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate. The numbers are also broken down by religious identity. “Arab American Muslims support Obama overwhelmingly (75% to 8%), while Orthodox/Protestants support Romney by a 16% margin,” according to the poll.
The AAI survey also notes that “Arab American Democrats still outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin (46% to 22%), continuing a steady migration away from the GOP since 2002,” though “independent affiliation has increased steadily since 2002.”
While the economic situation remains the number one issue for Arab-Americans, as well as the country at large, foreign policy also remains an issue on the minds of many Arab voters. Those polled put foreign policy as the 2nd most important issue for them in the U.S., with the economy and jobs far outweighing other issues.
57 percent of all Arab voters label the Israel/Palestine conflict as “very important.” “Democrats give Obama highest marks for his handling of the economy and taxes, and lowest marks for his handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to the survey.
Asked if Obama’s failure on the Israel/Palestine front was a major factor in the 15 percent drop among Arab-Americans, the president of AAI, Jim Zogby, said: “I’m not going to say major factor, but I think it’s a factor…[There’s] the combination of disappointment over the Middle East, some disappointment on civil liberties. But also the normal factors of everyone else, the fact that a number of things weren’t delivered on.”
The hopes that Obama would be an “honest broker” in trying to get Israel and the Palestinians to reach a deal have not panned out. While Obama came out against illegal Israeli settlements in the beginning of his term, pressure from Israel and its advocates in the U.S. ultimately caused the president to back down. And Obama has lavished military and economic aid on Israel while protecting it from diplomatic opprobrium.
Another issue weighing on the minds of Arab voters is civil liberties. “What happened in New York, with the NYPD surveillance program, continues without any criticism at all,” Zogby noted in an interview. “If you live in Michigan, cross the border as many do, if you come into Miami airport, if you come in New York airport, you can expect discriminatory treatment and that’s unacceptable and people feel it. So does that resonate? Sure it does.”
In April, the Council on American Islamic Relations sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for discriminatory treatment of Muslims at the Canadian border. And in that same month, Obama counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan seemingly put “a White House stamp of approval of the NYPD’s tactics” when he said that NYPD chief Ray Kelly has “done everything according to the law.” The White House then put out a statement denying that Brennan approved of the NYPD program.
But for all the disappointment in Obama over Israel/Palestine and civil liberties, the other candidate is even worse. “The other side doesn’t capitalize on it, they can’t capitalize on it because they scare the community,” said Zogby, referring to the Republican Party, who actively engage in Islamophobia. “So swing voters are not finding an alternative to the president.”
Underscoring the GOP’s anti-Muslim position was a recent YouGov poll highlighted on Mondoweiss, which found that “an overwhelming majority of Republican voters in the United States regard the west and Islam as being embroiled in ‘a fundamental conflict which only one side can win.’”
But the drop in Democratic support could harm Obama’s re-election chances. One recent study on Muslim-American political participation notes that the Muslim population in Florida and Michigan is large enough to swing the vote.