Can Biden win back Arab-American voters?

There is a big drop in support for the US President over his stance on the Israel-Gaza war

US President Joe Biden leaves Saint Edmond Catholic Church in Delaware after attending mass on Sunday. AFP
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Polling has value because it opens a window and allows one to hear and understand what people are saying and what their views might portend for the future. And so, for the past three decades, working with my brother John Zogby, we have polled the Arab-American community’s views on a range of political topics.

It was clear that Arab Americans would be affected by the devastation and loss of life resulting from the ongoing deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians. But because it wasn’t to what extent the community would respond, we commissioned a poll to get a closer look at how the community is reacting to the conflict, the impact it is having on their lives, how they feel about the Biden administration’s handling of the conflict, and what their reactions might mean for the 2024 elections.

The results were more striking than we could have imagined.

There has been a dramatic decline in Arab-American support for President Joe Biden, and that his handling of Israel’s continued devastation of Gaza is the reason for this shift in attitudes.

When asked how they would vote in 2024, only 17 per cent say they would cast a ballot for Mr Biden, in marked contrast to the 59 per cent who voted for him in 2020. The President’s approval rating among Arab Americans also plummeted from 74 per cent in 2020 to 29 per cent in this year’s poll.

To find the reason behind this precipitous drop in support, one needs to look no further than the two thirds of Arab Americans who say they have a negative view of the President’s handling of the current violence in Palestine and Israel, and a similar two thirds who believe that the US should call for a ceasefire to end the hostilities.

This is the first time in our 26 years of polling Arab Americans in which a majority of voters do not claim to prefer the Democratic Party

The overall impact of the negative views towards Mr Biden and his policies not only shows up in a substantial drop in expected voter support in 2024, but also has a dramatic impact on party preference. This poll marks the first time in our 26 years of polling Arab American voters in which a majority do not claim to prefer the Democratic Party.

During the 2008 and 2016 election cycles, Arab-American Democrats outnumbered Republicans by two to one. In this year’s poll, 32 per cent of Arab Americans identify as Republican as opposed to just 23 per cent who identify as Democrats. There has been a steady growth in the percentage of those who identify as independents – at the expense of the Democratic Party.

The poll also demonstrates that Arab Americans worry about the domestic fallout from the war and the heated rhetoric that has accompanied its repercussions at home. Eight in 10 Arab Americans are concerned that the current violence will provoke anti-Arab bigotry, while two thirds are similarly concerned with the prospect of anti-Semitism.

There are also high levels of concern with publicly expressing views in support of Palestinian rights and fear for their personal safety or acts of discrimination. And six in 10 Arab Americans report experiencing discrimination, an increase of 6 per cent since April of this year.

It is noteworthy that this concern is most prominent among Arab-American Muslims (70 per cent) and Arab Americans from ages 18-34 (74 per cent) who report facing discrimination. Half of all Arab Americans are concerned about facing discrimination at school, work and in their local community due to the Israel-Gaza war.

Finally, it is significant to note that both the high levels of support for Palestinian rights and high negatives for the President’s policies are views shared by almost all of the demographic groups covered in the poll – by age, gender, education level, religion and immigrant versus native born.

This is significant because in our nearly three decades of polling, there have been only two other moments when policy issues have resulted in such a dramatic shift in Arab-American views – and neither of them produced such a change over such a short period of time.

The first was during the George W Bush presidency, when over a period of four years Arab Americans moved decisively against the then president’s policies in Iraq and his repressive domestic agenda of undermining civil liberties and the governing Republican Party’s negative stereotyping of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans.

The second was in 2016, when Arab Americans recoiled in the face of Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign rhetoric against Muslims.

In Mr Biden’s case, while Arab-American attitudes towards his job performance declined on a par with the rest of the American voters, the precipitous drop over a few weeks’ time in support for his re-election and even his party has been unprecedented.

Arab Americans might not be as numerous as some other constituencies, but their hundreds of thousands of voters in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania were actively courted by the 2020 Biden campaign. For him to win them back in 2024 will be an uphill climb.

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Published: November 09, 2023, 7:00 AM