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Monday | July 21, 2003

Bush loses Arab-American support

Not too surprising, but Bush has lost his once-big lead amongst Arab Americans.

In 2000, Arab Americans voted for Bush 58.5% to 22.5%. If the election where held today, they would support the Democrat 52% to 10%. Why is this important? Because it knocks Michigan out of contention for Bush.

As for the primaries, Arab Americans (who, as I mentioned, where once strong Bush supporters) now gravitate towards two of the most liberal candidates -- Kerry (14.5%) and Dean (14.2%). Gephardt, the only other candidate in double digits, gets 10.5%.

Update: From DHinMI in the message boards, who has some experience in Michigan:

--The Arab vote may not be particularly huge, but it is one of the few swing constituencies in the state. Almost all persuasion efforts in MI statewide elections come down to the following: upscale women in Oakland County; white working class voters in Macomb and the Flint/Saginaw/Bay area; the Upper Penisula; and the Arab vote. In 2000 Gore got pounded in the north country, but he won Oakland Co and was the first Dem to win Macomb Co since Humphrey. The Arab vote went strongly for Bush, largely because
  1. Bush's surrogates put out the word among the Arab leadership that he would follow a Arab/Israeli policy similar to James Baker's (I've heard they were saying the opposite in similar meetings with conservative Jewish leaders), and

  2. Spencer Abraham was running for reelection to the Senate, so there was a HUGE push in the Arab community to vote for someone from their community, and that followed through to most other Republicans. But with high turnout and improved performance with upscale women and union members, the Arab vote wasn't enough.
--That the Arab vote is really a swing vote can be seen by the people who they have traditionally given strong support: Spencer Abraham, John Dingell, John Conyers, David Bonior, and to a lesser extent, John Engler. It's also a constituency that's growing rapidly.

--The Arab community raises a significant and growing amount of money for candidates at all levels, from legislature to President.

--Nobody really knows how many Arabs are in Michigan, but most estimates seem to settle in the 300K-600K range, mostly in the Detroit metro area. I'd guess it's about 35% Lebanese Shia, about 35% Chaldean (Catholics from Iraq), with the remaining 30% made up mostly of Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian Christians, and Palestinian, Yemeni, and Iraqi Muslims, although there are people from all over the Middle East. Most of the non-Chaldean Christians trace their roots in Michigan back to the 1910's-1940's, but most of the rest started coming here in the 1970's.

--Chaldeans typically vote Republican and the various Muslim groups tend to vote Democratic, but the Chaldeans are probably more reliably and consistenly partisan. But the Patriot Act and the gulf between Bush's unfulfilled (and probably disengenous) promises to the community have really soured their opinions on him. Of course Arab-Americans hate Saddam (that's why so many Chaldeans left Iraq), but from what I can tell, about the only Arabs around here with much zeal for this war were the Iraqi Shia, a fairly small group that arrived after GW I, and some of those guys went back into Iraq with the U.S. troops to serve as interpreters and liasons. But even more damaging for Bush than the war is the Patriot Act. Holding people on secret evidence isn't something new; the Clinton administration stopped using the legislative authority Congress gave them in the mid-1990's to hold people on appalling legal grounds. But before the Reno Justice Dept ceased using secret evidence, the most likely targets of secret evidence investigations tended to be Arab Americans. Obviously this has gotten worse since 9-11, and while the Feds locally have tried to be calm and work cooperatively, most Arab-Americans are scared by Ashcroft more than I am, and that lunatic scares the hell out of me. Add in customs and immigration problems, travel restrictions, endless searches at airports, etc., and Arab-Americans have a lot of grievances for Bush and the kool-aid drinkers.

--As to the effect of this on the electoral vote landscape in 2004: Bush is going to have a hard time winning Michigan, but they'll spend a boatload trying. Both chambers of the legislature are solidly Republican, but if turnout is solid (like 2000, but unlike 2002)--and that's a big if--but if turnout is good, it's increasingly difficult for a polarizing Republican to win the state. Like a lot of other places, upscale educated voters here are trending Dem. Unlike most other places, a significant chunk of working class white voters have stayed with--or returned to--the Dems, largely because we've got the second highest union density (after NY) in the continental 48, and the unions have gotten fairly sophisticated about how to reach their members, especially in a Presidential year. So if on top of all those other problems the Republicans now have to write off the Arab vote, their margin for error in Michigan gets really slim, and their margin for error nationally gets slim as well.

Posted July 21, 2003 03:07 PM


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