A recent poll of Arab American voters in four key states has some bad news for both President Bush and his Democratic challenger John Kerry. The poll shows that the percentage of Arab Americans who believe that President Bush deserves to be reelected is a low 28 percent. When matched up against John Kerry, Bush loses 54% to 30%.
The bad news for Senator Kerry is that when Ralph Nader’s name is entered into the mix, the numbers change to 43% for Kerry, 27% for Bush, and 20% for Nader.
The poll in question is was the first in a series of tracking polls that Zogby International of New York is conducting for the Arab American Institute. This first poll, conducted in the last few days of February 2004, surveyed 501 likely Arab American voters living in four key electoral states: Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. (The poll has a margin of error of +/-4.5%.) These four states were chosen because they will be among those to be hotly contested in the 2004 election and because they are also home to sizeable Arab American populations. Together they include more than 1.1 million Arab Americans.
Given the propensity of Arab Americans to vote in somewhat larger numbers than the average population, Arab Americans in these four states represent a likely voter turnout of more than 510,000 voters. The Arab American vote equals more than five percent of the overall vote in Michigan, two percent in Florida, just under two percent in Ohio and more than 1.5% in Pennsylvania.
1. Bush in trouble
What this four-state poll establishes is that the very low support that President bush receives from Arab Americans is a derivative of their concern with his Administration’s policies and performance. When asked to rate the President’s overall job performance, only 32% of Arab Americans approved, 67% disapproved. When Arab Americans were then asked to rate the President’s performance on eight separate areas of policy (Israeli-Palestinian conflict, civil liberties of immigrants, health care, environment, economy, Iraq war, foreign policy, and taxes) in only one case, that is taxes, did the President receive an approval rating of 32%. In every other area the numbers were significantly lower. For example, only 16% of Arab American voters, in the four states, approved of how the President was handling the Israeli-Palestinian issue and only 23% approved the President’s handling of immigrants’ civil rights.
When Arab Americans were asked how important three of these issues (Israel-Palestine, Iraq, civil liberties) were in determining their vote, they indicated that the Iraq war carried the most weight, slightly edging out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both issues were deemed to be "very important" in influencing the November vote of two-thirds of all Arab American voters. Protecting the civil rights of immigrants was "very important" to about one-half. Given the importance of these issues to the Arab American voters polled and the low approval rating they give the Administration’s performance in each of these areas, it should be no surprise to see the reduced support Arab Americans give to President Bush’s re-election.
2. Bush v. Kerry v. Nader
If the election were held today, Kerry would win the Arab American vote by a margin of 54 percent to 30 percent. In this match-up Kerry wins the support of virtually all of sub-groups of Arab American voters. He beats President Bush among native-born Arab Americans and immigrants and among all the major religious groupings (Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, and Muslims).
The problem for Senator Kerry is that when Ralph Nader enters the race, he cuts significantly into Kerry’s lead over Bush, reducing Kerry’s total to 43 percent.
Here’s what happens. One-half of all Nader’s voters come right out of Kerry’s column. Only one of six Nader voters come from President Bush. The rest are those Arab Americans who indicated no preference between Bush and Kerry in the initial match-up.
Who are these Nader voters? It appears from the polling, that Nader voters are educated, high intensity issue voters. Three-fourths of Nader voters are native born Arab Americans and three-fourths are college educated. Two-thirds of those who support Nader are Arab American women. Almost 40 percent are Muslim Arab Americans while another 30 percent are Orthodox Christians.Eighty percent of those who say they will vote for Nader say the Arab-Israeli conflict is very important in determining their vote. And a higher than average 80 percent give President Bush a poor rating on most of the issues included in the poll.
3. What does this mean for the 2004 election?
A comparison of this early 2004 poll with the actual vote in the 2000 election shows an overall switch of more than 30 percent-a significant net loss for President Bush. This represents a shift of almost 170,000 Arab American votes from the Republican column to the Democratic column. Given the closeness of the 2000 election in each of these four states (Gore won Michigan and Pennsylvania by just five percent, Bush won Ohio by four percent, Florida was a tie), this significant movement of votes can make a difference in the 2004 election and will require the attention of both Democrats and Republicans as they move on to November.
Republicans will have to find a way to stem the loss of Arab American support, while Democrats will need to make Arab American voters feel more confident that Senator Kerry will address their concerns and make a difference in dealing with the issues they care about.