The Arab American Vote: 2012

by James J. Zogby Dr. James J. Zogby is the author of Arab Voices (Palgrave Macmillan, October 2010) and the founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization which serves as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community. Since 1985, Dr. Zogby and AAI have led Arab American efforts to secure political empowerment in the U.S. Through voter registration, education and mobilization, AAI has moved Arab Americans into the political mainstream.

For the past three decades, Dr. Zogby has been involved in a full range of Arab American issues. A co-founder and chairman of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign in the late 1970s, he later co-founded and served as the Executive Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. In 1982, he co-founded Save Lebanon, Inc., a private non-profit, humanitarian and non-sectarian relief organization which funds health care for Palestinian and Lebanese victims of war, and other social welfare projects in Lebanon. In 1985, Zogby founded AAI.

In 1993, following the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord in Washington, he was asked by Vice President Al Gore to lead Builders for Peace, a private sector committee to promote U.S. business investment in the West Bank and Gaza. In his capacity as co-president of Builders, Zogby frequently traveled to the Middle East with delegations led by Vice President Gore and late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. In 1994, with former U.S. Congressman Mel Levine, his colleague as co-president of Builders, Zogby led a U.S. delegation to the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement in Cairo. Zogby also chaired a forum on the Palestinian economy at the Casablanca Economic Summit in 1994. After 1994, through Builders, Zogby worked with a number of US agencies to promote and support Palestinian economic development, including AID, OPIC, USTDA, and the Departments of State and Commerce.

Dr. Zogby has also been personally active in U.S. politics for many years; in 1984 and 1988 he served as Deputy Campaign manager and Senior Advisor to the Jesse Jackson Presidential campaign. Most recently, in 1995 DNC Chairman Don Fowler appointed Zogby as co-convener of the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Committee (NDECC), an umbrella organization of Democratic Party leaders of European and Mediterranean descent. In 1999 and 2001 he was reelected to that post. Also in 2001, he was appointed to the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and in 2006 was also named Co-Chair of the DNC's Resolutions Committee.

A lecturer and scholar on Middle East issues, U.S.-Arab relations, and the history of the Arab American community, Dr. Zogby appears frequently on television and radio. He has appeared as a regular guest on all the major network news programs. After hosting the popular "A Capital View" on the Arab Network of America from 1993-2001. From 2001 until now he hosts the award winning "Viewpoint with James Zogby" on Abu Dhabi Television, LinkTV, Dish Network, and DirecTV.

Since 1992, Dr. Zogby has also written a weekly column on U.S. politics for the major newspapers of the Arab world. The column, "Washington Watch," is currently published in 14 Arab and South Asian countries. He has authored a number of books including two publications, "What Ethnic Americans Really Think" and "What Arabs Think: Values, Beliefs and Concerns."

Dr. Zogby has testified before U.S. House and Senate committees, has been guest speaker on a number of occasions in the Secretary's Open Forum at the U.S. Department of State, and has addressed the United Nations and other international forums.

Dr. Zogby is also active professionally beyond his involvement with the Arab American community. He currently serves on the national advisory board of the American Civil Liberties Union, The Human Rights Watch Board of Directors for the Middle East and North Africa and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Additionally, he is a Senior Advisor for the polling firm Zogby International, where he is responsible for the firm's groundbreaking polling across the Middle East.

In 1975, Dr. Zogby received his doctorate from Temple University's Department of Religion, where he studied under the Islamic scholar Dr. Ismail al-Faruqi. He was a National Endowment for the Humanities Post-Doctoral Fellow at Princeton University in 1976, and on several occasions was awarded grants for research and writing by the Knight Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Defense Education Act, and the Mellon Foundation. Dr. Zogby received a Bachelor of Arts from Le Moyne College. In 1995, Le Moyne awarded Zogby an honorary doctoral of laws degree, and in 1997 named him the college's outstanding alumnus. In 2007 Temple University's College of Liberal Arts named him its Distinguished Alum.

Dr. Zogby is married to Eileen Patricia McMahon and is the father of five children. Zogby's mother, Cecilia Ann, was a woman committed to religion, family, education, and service of others. Click here for Dr. Zogby's January 1999 reflections on the "Zogby Matriarch."

Arab Americans matter.  Well integrated into all spheres of American life, Arab Americans are teachers, medical professionals, auto-workers, and first responders. In communities across the country the Arab American business community is a key to local prosperity. Arab Americans are also a bridge to their countries of origin, providing critical political and business insights into developments unfolding in the MENA region. And Arab Americans have been termed "the weak link in America's civil liberty chain" - because the rights of the community are sometimes put at risk by aggressive unconstitutional law enforcement practices. 

In an election year, in several areas of the country, the Arab American vote also matters. This is well known in Michigan; where the community is recognized as a key constituency. The importance of Arab Americans has recently been established in northern New Jersey where they played a significant role this year in helping long-time friend Congressman Bill Pascrell win a tough primary contest. The community is also courted in key districts in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Illinois, and Florida. And Arab Americans are growing rapidly - immigration data shows that over 500,000 Arabs were admitted as legal immigrants in the past decade, almost 900,000 in the past 20 years.

As our experience and our polling over the past two decades makes clear, Arab Americans vote like most Americans, but with an edge. They are concerned about the economy and its impact on their families. They want our country to be safe and secure and they want their rights as Americans to be protected. They care about the quality and affordability of health care and our institutions of public education. But, because of their affinity to the Middle East, they are also deeply concerned, as all Americans should be, with the conduct of our foreign policy in that important part of the world.

Throughout the 1990's, when we first began to measure Arab American voter attitudes, the community was nearly evenly divided between those who identified as Democrat and those who identified as Republican. It was during George W. Bush's tenure that this began to change, culminating in 2008 with an Arab American landslide for Barack Obama. As our first 2012 poll demonstrates, Arab Americans still favor President Obama, but with a level of support that may be somewhat lower than it was four years ago. But while Arab Americans may be disappointed with President Barack Obama's failure to deliver on early promises of change in foreign and domestic policies, this has not translated into support for his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

These are some of the findings of a mid-September poll of Arab American voters commissioned by the Arab American Institute (AAI). The poll, conducted by jzanalytics, surveyed 404 voters nationwide and had a margin of error of ±5%. What the AAI poll found was that Obama leads Romney, 52% to 28%, with 5% of Arab Americans supporting minor party candidates and 16% still undecided. This lead, while healthy, shows that the President still has a ways to go to duplicate the 67% to 28% lopsided margin he held over John McCain in 2008 among Arab American voters.

This gap of 15 points between the President's performance among Arab American voters in 2012 and 2008 can be important in a close election. If President Obama doesn't win these voters back it could represent a potential loss of over 100,000 votes in 5 battleground states.  

The economy is far and away the most important issue for 8 in 10 Arab Americans, followed by foreign policy and health care. When asked "who will do the better job" on a range of domestic and foreign policy concerns (including: the economy, health care, taxes, civil liberties, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and outreach to the Arab and Muslim Worlds), Obama easily bests Romney in every area - although it is worth noting that the President receives his lowest rating on dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

There has been some slippage in the number of Arab Americans who identify as Democrats - down to 46% from a 2008 high of 54%. The Republican numbers are also down to 22%, from 27% in 2008. The GOP slide continues a trend since 2000 when Arab Americans were almost evenly divided between the two major parties. Today, as in 2008 and 2010, the community favors the Democratic Party by a two-to-one margin. It is also worth noting that there is an increase in the number of Arab Americans who now identify as independent - 24% in 2012 - and it among voters in this group that the President is under-performing in 2012.  

The poll also helps shine a light on some personal concerns of Arab Americans. Forty percent of the community says that since 9/11 they have experienced some form of discrimination because of their ethnicity and a somewhat larger percentage say they fear that this phenomenon may become an even greater problem in the future. This problem is experienced by all sub-groups within the community, but is most acutely felt by younger Arab Americans (18-29) and those who are Muslim.

This concern with discrimination, however, has not caused them to deny their ethnicity with more than 6 in 10 saying that they describe themselves as "Arab American" and 8 in 10 maintaining that they are proud of their ethnic heritage.

Arab Americans also appear to feel more economically secure than their fellow Americans and more confident about the future. More than 6 in 10 say that they feel secure in their jobs, with one-half expressing some confidence that their children will have a better life. 

The bottom line is that while not a giant, Arab Americans are a community that is worthy of note - especially in a close election.


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