Bush Gains on Kerry for Arab-American Vote

Despite the worsening situation in Iraq and the continued impasse between Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. President George W. Bush has cut Sen. John Kerry’s previously substantial lead among Arab-American voters in four key swing states, according to a new survey released here Wednesday.

As recently as July, Kerry led Bush by better than a two-to-one margin – or 54 percent to 24.5 percent – among more than half a million Arab-American voters in Michigan, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in a two-man race.

His lead has now fallen to 49 percent, compared to 31.5 percent for Bush, according to the poll [.pdf], which was conducted by Zogby International for the Washington-based Arab American Institute (AAI).

A particularly high 20 percent of Arab-American voters, however, remain undecided, according to the new poll. For the broader public, only about 10 percent of the votes are still considered up for grabs at this stage of the campaign.

If independent candidate Ralph Nader, who is himself an Arab-American, is included in the tally, Kerry’s support would decline to 47 percent, while Bush’s would be undiminished, according to the poll, which was based on interviews with 502 Arab-American registered voters in the four states, which are broadly representative of the 3.5 million Arab Americans who are citizens.

Nader’s support stands at nine percent, down from 13 percent in July, and far below the 20 percent of Arab-American votes he captured in the 2000 presidential election.

The new poll results suggest that, like the rest of the U.S. electorate, Arab Americans were impressed with the Republicans’ performance at their convention in New York City last month. The convention, as well as Kerry’s failure so far to take the offensive against Bush, is credited with giving the president a strong "bounce" that has given him a lead ranging from three to as much as 10 percent in most national polls.

To AAI president James Zogby, it also suggests Kerry’s campaign has been unable to take advantage of Arab Americans’ clear unhappiness with Bush, particularly regarding his policies in the Middle East.

"While Kerry might have secured as much as two-thirds of the Arab-American vote, he remains at less than one-half," said Zogby. "This constituency was clearly ready for a change, but Kerry’s campaign has failed to do outreach to Arab-American voters and to define their candidate and his positions."

Zogby’s analysis accords with at least two other minority ethnic groups, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans. As with Arab Americans, Kerry’s lead among voters in those two groups is fairly substantial, but his campaign’s failure to devote more resources and time to cultivating their base, particularly through their communities’ media, has been widely criticized by observers who say that Kerry could be making much more headway.

In 2000, Bush, whose denunciation of ethnic profiling of Arabs and Muslims during a nationally televised debate with Al Gore created a sensation in both communities, beat the then-vice president by a margin of 46 percent to 29 percent among Arab-American voters in the four states surveyed. Nader, who is of Lebanese Christian descent, captured 16 percent of the Arab-American vote in those states that year.

While Arab Americans make up just a little over one percent of the U.S. population, their voter turnout, which is higher than that of most other U.S. minority groups, is expected to hit close to two million this year, or about 1.5 percent of all voters.

But the Arab-American population is disproportionately concentrated in a relatively few states, such as California and New York – where Kerry is expected to win handily in November – as well as the four states surveyed in the latest poll.

AAI and Zogby International chose the latter states both because of their larger-than-average Arab-American populations and because they are four of about a dozen states which are still considered "battlegrounds"; that is, where the race is so close that the outcome less than seven weeks from now cannot be predicted with any confidence.

The likely Arab-American vote in Michigan (235,000) represents slightly more than five percent of the overall vote in that state. With 120,000 likely votes, it would account for about two percent of the total in Florida (which Bush won in a disputed count by only 500 votes in 2000). With a total of about 160,000 votes in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Arab-American voters make up about 1.6 percent of the electorate there.

Zogby said Bush’s gain over the last two months appeared almost entirely attributable to the consolidation of his support among Arab Americans who identify themselves as Republicans, rather than any major inroads on self-identified independents or Democrats. In polling by AAI/Zogby International earlier this year, only about 60 percent of Arab-American Republicans supported Bush’s reelection. That has now risen to 75 percent or more.

Bush’s biggest gains in the Arab-American population as a whole were also made among Protestant and Orthodox Christians. About two of every Muslim Arab Americans support Kerry, a proportion that remains virtually unchanged over the five months.

Like the rest of the U.S. electorate, Arab-American voters were found to rate the economy as the issue of greatest importance to them, followed by terrorism/national security, health care, foreign policy, Iraq, civil liberties, taxes, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict, in that order.

Asked to rate Bush’s job performance in each issue area, 31 percent of respondents gave him an excellent or good rating overall. A high of 41 percent of respondents rated his performance excellent or good on dealing with terrorism/national security, while only 10 percent gave him a positive rating on Israel-Palestinian conflict.

When the candidates were compared, Kerry beat Bush in all areas except terrorism/national security. Kerry beat Bush by a margin of more than 10 points on health care, foreign policy, and civil liberties.

The two were found to be virtually tied on Iraq war policy and on their perceived ability to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over the past several months, Kerry, who had called for Washington to take a more evenhanded position on the latter issue during the primary campaign, has lined up strongly behind the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, making his views scarcely distinguishable from Bush.

As Republicans never cease pointing out, Kerry has issued a number of different positions on the wisdom of invading and occupying Iraq. The clearest point of difference between the two men now is that Kerry favors making a much stronger effort at persuading the UN and U.S. allies to become more directly involved in Iraq in exchange for giving them more control over reconstruction and security.

"John Kerry has not yet distinguished his position from the President’s either on Iraq or Israel/Palestine and therefore does not have a significant advantage there," Zogby said.

"Frankly, what we find in earlier polls is that many of those in the undecided or even in the Nader category would switch to the Democrat, but have not yet found a reason to do so," he said.

"President Bush has galvanized his base and probably can expand it a point or two. I think that the dynamic of this race is pretty much set and the question is: will John Kerry gain more or will he stay stuck where he is right now?"

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.