SingOnSanDiego.com April 26, 2004
President's luster dims among Arab-Americans
By Toby Eckert
DEARBORN, Mich. In a notable show of unity, Arab-American and Muslim leaders warmly embraced George W. Bush's bid for the presidency in 2000.
Four years later, many of them are again united in their views of Bush, but they are using words such as "disappointed" and "betrayed" to describe their feelings.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Iraq war and intensified violence in Israel and Palestinian territories, many Arab-Americans say Bush has ignored their views and abandoned their interests.
That frustration could be expressed at the polls Nov. 2, throwing another volatile element into the election in Michigan and several other battleground states with large Arab-American populations.
"In survey after survey, it's clear Arab-Americans are disaffected from Bush," said independent pollster John Zogby, whose firm conducted a survey for the Arab American Institute in February that showed 65 percent of ethnic Arabs in four closely contested states opposed Bush's re-election.
The poll respondents in Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania states where Zogby estimated that Arab-American turnout could total more than 510,000 indicated that 46 percent had voted for Bush in 2000 and 29 percent supported Democrat Al Gore. Zogby is the brother of James Zogby, the president of the Arab-American Institute.
"People are very frustrated with the Bush administration," said Imad Hamad, director of the Michigan office of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. It has headquarters in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, a leading cultural and political center of the Middle Eastern ethnic population in the United States.
"I think this unique commitment and support that President Bush gained from the Arab-American community (in 2000) is gone for good."
Prominent Arab-American supporters of Bush dispute that assessment. They predict that Arab-Americans particularly Iraqis grateful for the removal of Saddam Hussein will rally to Bush's economic agenda and his calls for the spread of democracy in the Middle East.
The 2000 U.S. census counted 1.2 million Arab-Americans, but some experts say that reflects a large undercount. They put the figure closer to 4 million, most of whom are Christian.
California is home to the nation's biggest Arab-American population, with major concentrations in San Diego and Los Angeles counties.
The Zogby poll estimates that Arab-Americans represent more than 5 percent of the vote in Michigan, 2 percent in Florida, 1.8 percent in Ohio and 1.5 percent in Pennsylvania.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Bush's Democratic opponent, would seem to be the natural beneficiary of any erosion in Arab-American support for Bush. In a three-way race including independent Ralph Nader, the Zogby poll showed Kerry drawing 43 percent support, compared with 27 percent for Bush.
But several Arab-American leaders said Kerry's failure to denounce Bush's recent policy shift on Israeli land claims and Palestinian refugees could drive more voters into the arms of Nader, who is Lebanese-American.
Nader got 20 percent support in the Zogby poll, nearly all of it at Kerry's expense. "Nader is very popular in the Arab-American community as a person," said Abed Hammoud, a Kerry supporter and president of the Arab-American Political Action Committee, adding that Nader's presence in the race "may cause us a struggle with our endorsement."