Who and what pulls the Arab American vote
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
Based on empirical grounds, it is predicted that the majority of Arab Americans will vote for Biden- or shall we say vote against Trump. Click here for data.
There are about 3.5 million Arab Americans, originating from 22 countries, approximately one per-cent of the US population. In this lingo-ethnic community, national origin outweighs regional affiliation in forming the personal identity. The average Arab American is educated, employed and relatively integrated in the host society.
Arab votes would be crucial in this election if the outcome is close. Two Washington-based Arab Americans, Egypt’s professor Tawfic Hamid and former Lebanese Ambassador Massoud Maalouf (on a recent TV panel on el-Hurra Arabic channel) agreed that Americans of Arab descent normally do not vote as one block, and their vote is important for America and the Middle East. However, both Maalouf and Hamid have clear differences of opinion over the two candidates. Their views mirror the divergent attitudes of the wider Mideast community.
Regional attitudes toward the two candidates are worthy of attention. On November first, a Lebanese TV channel ( in “My Say” program) released an opinion poll on the subject of US elections. Lebanon’s right leaning parties are supportive of Trump and socially leaning parties are supportive of Biden. Over eighty percent of Hezbollah leaning respondents prefer Biden and a comparative majority of the “forceful” Christian conservative party favors Trump. The preference of Hezbollah for a Democrat’s win may mean that Iran, as well as Syria, expects to respond positively to a possible new phase of dialogue between Washington and Tehran.
Additional polling data come from Israel. The majority of Israelis support Trump. This preference for Trump reveals that Israel’s population has shifted significantly to the right in recent years. In contrast, the Jewish American vote is going, in the majority, to Biden.
This ideological difference between US Jews and Israeli Jews is more than an artifact of political taste; such a gap may foreshadow trouble for the Jewish State. Without the support of the American Jewish Diaspora Israel will not be able to thrive.
Neither Trump nor Biden is that popular among Arab Americans. Many wish they had a third choice- one with a passionate sense of justice for all in the region- other than Biden and Trump.
Voter support is largely based on policy records of the two candidates. Biden endorsed the Iraq war, an unforgettable faulty position for most Arabs. Still, it was the Republicans who launched this tragic intervention. Whereas, Trump has elevated the ceiling of unconditional support for Israel, Biden has set policy limits for Israel’s creeping annexation of the West Bank. A Biden regime is likely to raise again the issue of Palestinian rights to statehood and will try to revive the negotiations between the two sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Arabs who see value in the normalization process (the so-called Abraham Accords) between Israel and the Arab states give Trump credit. Such voters consider Trump’s banning of six troubled Islamic countries (Muslim ban) from entering US borders as a counter-terror strategy: a plus. But for many, the Muslim ban is zenophobic and the normalization with Israel undermines the Arab Peace Plan of 2002- the land for peace paradigm.
Biden speaks of reopening dialogue with Iran and the wider Muslim world. Trump supporters, who tend to come from the Arab Gulf countries and from President Sisi’s Egypt, find the Democrats’ relative flexibility with Iran to be a naïve and counterproductive strategy.
Among Middle East Americans there are many more significant differences on issues such as climate change, health care, international relations and the economy. On such broad issues, Arab Americans do not differ significantly from the rest of America.
The US political scene has shifted in many ways over the past four years. In 2016, Americans of Arab origin voted in large numbers against Hilary Clinton. In several swing states election outcomes could have shifted in favor of the Democrats had the Arabs ignored Hillary’s biased position toward Israel. Then, Hillary Clinton was unpopular among many in the Arab American community, and Donald Trump was an unknown.
The president’s reputation as a “clever” businessman attracted many voters, especially those who relish juicy tax relief. The critical difference today is in the image of the two competing parties and their candidates: Republicans are closely associated with the conservative Evangelical community, which is not known to be friendly to the Muslim world and to vital word issues. In contrast, the Democrats have attracted many representatives (like the Somali American Ilhan Omar and the Palestinian American Rashida Tlaib) who represent minority interests and call for bold change.
Arab Americans are expected to vote in large numbers this time. Arab Americans are generally integrated in mainstream society. Their votes, however, tend to focus on perceptions of foreign policy of the candidates. The fact that both the Arab and Jewish US communities find stability and clear vision for America in Biden’s leadership is a solid stamp of validity.
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