Just one month before the 2010 midterm elections, a new public opinion poll shows that Arab-American voters favor Democrats over Republicans by a wide margin. The survey also finds that discrimination against Arab Americans appears to be on the rise.
Americans go to the polls next month to cast their votes against during a time of continued economic distress and unresolved conflicts across the Middle East. Arab Americans, once considered a political swing group, are now solidly in the Democratic camp, according to the new survey by Zogby International, which was sponsored by the Arab American Institute.
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, points to foreign policy and civil rights as major reasons for the community's support of the Democratic party.
"It is not the party that made the war in Iraq. It is not the party that supported the devastation of Lebanon. It is not the party that supported and wrote the PATRIOT act and supported the abuse of civil liberties," says Zogby
The survey shows that Arab-Americans support Democrats two-to-one over Republicans on national security, fighting terrorism and the economy. On the issue of civil liberties, the margin is three-to-one in favor of the Democrats.
The survey was conducted during the last week of September, following weeks of controversy over plans by a Muslim group to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque - called Park 51 - near the site of the World Trade Center.
Many opponents of the project were conservative Republicans, who said building a mosque there would be insensitive to the families of those killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks. Zogby says that reinforced Arab-Americans' tendency to lean toward the Democrats.
Nearly half of those polled also report experiencing discrimination.
"When we asked Arab-Americans, 41 percent said they have been discriminated against because of their ethnicity. They are sensitive to these issues because they know when it does not smell right , does not feel right," says Zogby. "People are not going to vote Park 51, that is not going to be the cause of the vote, but it has created an atmosphere which reinforces a sense of not being welcomed, of not being included."
Zogby says the Arab-American vote in the midterm elections will be significant in Pennsylvania, Ohio, California and Florida, where there are large Arab-American communities. He expects a very significant impact in Michigan, where Arab-Americans make up five percent of registered voters.
Hassan Jaber, executive director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Michigan, says one of the center's goals is to increase Arab-American political participation in the state.
"Detroit is one of the largest Arab-American communities in the nation and the community is extremely dynamic and engaged," says Jaber. "We have seen more engagement in the political process and obviously the Arab-American community has a lot of economic clout in Detroit, so it is significant. We work with community leaders in making sure that we maximize the engagement of Arab-Americans and that there will be coordination among Arab-American organizations."
According to Jaber, similar efforts are being made in many other Arab-American communities throughout the U.S., but there is a special focus on Michigan.
"There are scheduled fundraising events almost every evening this week, there is, in Michigan, recognition of the size and of the power of Arab-Americans and we are very happy with the level of engagement."
Jaber says candidates often attend these fundraising events, where Arab-American voters express their concerns over the rising trend of discrimination and the racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims at American airports.
The Zogby poll indicates that jobs and the economy are the top priority for 70 percent of Arab-American voters, followed by the war in Iraq, Middle East peace efforts and other foreign policy concerns.
On virtually every one of these issues, respondents said that the Democrats would do a better job than the Republicans and that they favor a Democratic-controlled Congress. Mid-term elections will be held on November 2, 2010.