Avoiding Trump presidency is major motivation behind Arab support for Democratic candidate, survey shows
DEARBORN, United States - As Americans head to the polls to choose a new president on Tuesday in a crucial election watched closely by the entire world, a Zogby poll shows Arab Americans strongly favour Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over Republican candidate Donald Trump.
The poll, released by the Arab American Institute (AAI) on 25 October, showed 60 percent of likely US Arab voters back Clinton, compared with 26 percent support for Trump.
In the survey, which included 502 Arab Americans, more than 90 percent of respondents said they are likely to vote on 8 November.
Trump was accused of fuelling Islamophobia after suggesting banning Muslims from entering the United States. He later changed his proposal, advocating "extreme vetting" for potential immigrants that would include ideological testing. He also wants to suspend immigration from countries with known "links to terrorism".
About 80 percent of Arab American Muslims are worried about facing discrimination in the future, according to the poll.
Half of the respondents said they have experienced prejudice because of their ethnicity.
Avoiding a Trump presidency is a major motivation behind Arab support for the Democratic candidate, the survey showed. A third of respondents said voting against the GOP nominee is their main reason for backing Clinton.
“All sides cite jobs and the economy as the most import issue in determining their vote,” read a release by AAI. “Republicans cite combating terrorism as their second issue of concern, while Democrats cite gun violence. A strong majority of Arab Americans believe that undocumented immigrants with no criminal record, currently in the United States, should be eligible for a pathway to legal status.”
Arab and Muslim American activists and advocacy groups have been working to increase voter turnout in their communities with campaigns like "Yalla vote".
— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) November 6, 2016
Speaking to MEE after a forum in Dearborn, Michigan, a town with a large Arab community, AAI president James Zogby said Arab Americans have been increasingly favouring the Democratic Party in recent years.
He said prior to 2000, Arab Americans were almost evenly split between the two major parties.
“It was always leaning Democrat, like two or three points,” he said. “Beginning 2002, the gap started to open, and today it is more than two-to-one; Arab Americans started identifying as Democrats.”
Clinton and Trump during one of the televised debates earlier in the campaign (AFP)
Zogby added that Republicans “earned” losing the Arab vote with their behaviour during the Bush era and their political rhetoric.
“They have written this community off and used it as a scapegoat, and they’re paying the price for it,” he said.
Zogby highlighted the importance of the Arab vote, which could be as much as five percent of Michigan's population, according to AAI.
“The numbers [of Arab Americans] here in Michigan, the numbers in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in Virginia can be the margin of victory,” he said. “One or two percent in those other states, five percent in Michigan. If they turn out to vote, it can produce a significant margin in a close election.”
The US president does not get elected by popular vote, but by the electoral college, awarded based on the results of the elections in individual states.
The Clinton campaign has hired a Muslim outreach director and has been courting Arab and Muslim voters across the country.
Meanwhile, Trump met with Lebanese and Iraqi political activists, including an imam, during a visit to Michigan last year.
Michigan has consistently voted for Democratic presidential candidates since 1992. But Trump has been closing the gap in opinion polls with his Democratic rival in Michigan, turning the state, home to large Arab and Muslim communities, into an election battleground.
Days ahead of the elections, Clinton and Trump held rallies in Michigan. President Barack Obama campaigned for the Democratic nominee in Michigan on Monday, less than 24 hours ahead of the elections.
Bill Clinton taking a 'selfie' with Arab Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, 6 November (Samer Hijazi)
Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, visited Dearborn on Sunday, where he ate at a local Arabic restaurant and visited a Middle Eastern grocery store. Dozens of Arab American admirers surrounded the former president to take pictures with him.
Fayrouz Saad, a volunteer who has been leading the “Arab Americans for Hillary” initiative, said the Clinton campaign has been involved in a national push to help “organise and mobilise” the Arab community through events like town halls, phone banks and candidate forums.
“Clinton and the campaign have a real effort to engage the community,” Saad told MEE last month. “That goes to show that she cares.”
Saad added that Clinton has always condemned bigoted rhetoric as damaging to US society, promoting inclusiveness.
Asked why Republicans are not pursuing Arab and Muslim voters similarly to the Clinton campaign, Zogby said: “Because their nominee is a bigot”.
Not all Arab Americans are enthusiastic about Clinton's candidacy. Dr Sam Fawaz, a Michigan-based physician, said he is not supporting either major party candidate.
He said Trump and Clinton are different versions of the same policies.
Illustration encouraging Arab Americans to vote (Arab American Institute)
“Neither one of them represents the will or the vision of the American people,” he told MEE. “They represent the will and the vision of their corporate masters and the people they answer to.”
Fawaz said a small but significant portion of Trump’s supporters are misguided, and harbour racism and prejudice toward minorities, including Arab and Muslim Americans.
He said if Trump is elected, some of his followers may feel emboldened to harm susceptible communities.
But that is not enough for Fawaz to back Clinton. He said the former secretary of state’s policies will be a continuation of Obama programmes that stoked bigotry.
“Islamophobia has risen to the highest level under an Obama administration, not because of Trump,” he said. “Trump showed up to the scene one year ago.”
Fawaz cited the drone programme and infringement on civil rights as Obama policies that he finds problematic.
“They do things abroad, we pay the price for it here as Arab Americans and Muslim Americans,” he said, arguing that the rise of militant organisations is the result of botched US military interventions.
The doctor said Arab and Muslim Americans are looking for the same goals and have the same needs as the general US public.
“Arabs and Muslims want peace and civility and equal opportunity… They want job security. They want good paychecks. They want better health care at an affordable cost. They want good, affordable education. They want safety,” Fawaz said. “They are no different than any other group of people living in the United States.”
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.