Will it be Biden or Trump? What polls can teach us about Arab-American voters

The biggest reason for Biden’s ratings boils down to one word: Gaza

US President Joe Biden, left, and Vice President Kamala Harris at a campaign event at Girard College in Philadelphia, on May 29. Bloomberg
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More often than not, those in the media take a simplistic view of political polls. Especially in a presidential election year, attention tends to be singularly focused on who’s up and who’s down.

In reality, these “horse race” numbers, while important, are often the least consequential part of a poll. Looking at the rich data that makes up a poll can provide far more useful information, suggesting, for example, why candidate A or B is doing well or poorly. A deep dive into the data can also reveal the diversity of the population being surveyed and among which component groups of the electorate the candidates are doing better or worse. And finally, if prescriptive questions are asked, a poll can also provide a way for candidates to understand what they can do to improve their position.

Ignoring all of this nuance, journalists who make do with simply reporting the topline results miss the more valuable findings of a poll. As a case in point, we can look at the May 2024 poll of a random sample of 900 Arab-American registered voters in key states, representative of the demographics of the community. The poll was conducted for the Arab American Institute by John Zogby Strategies.

The AAI poll received good coverage, all of which noted that while in 2020 President Joe Biden bested former president Donald Trump by 59 per cent to 35 per cent among Arab Americans, Mr Biden is now losing to Mr Trump by 32 per cent to 18 per cent. This was true, but what was missed were the details that make this picture so much more revealing.

For example, while “not sure” and third-party candidates received less than 10 per cent support in 2020, that goes up to 50 per cent this year. The main reason for this is that 40 per cent of Arab Americans say they are “not enthusiastic at all” about casting a vote in November, while another 21 per cent are “not really enthusiastic” – increasing the percentage of those who aren’t sure for whom they’ll vote (or if they’ll vote at all) in November. Importantly, the lack of enthusiasm is most evident among Democratic voters, 50 per cent of whom aren’t “enthusiastic at all”. That’s only the case for 11 per cent of Republicans.

The AAI poll also shows that 79 per cent of Arab Americans have an unfavourable view of Mr Biden, while 55 per cent have an unfavourable view of Mr Trump. Mr Biden’s negative ratings are largely driven by the 56 per cent of Democrats who view him unfavourably. On the other hand, Mr Trump’s numbers are higher because he retains the near-total support of those who identify as Republicans. Mr Biden’s most significant losses among Arab Americans occurred among the two groups, who have in recent decades heavily leant towards the Democratic Party but who also have the most tenuous attachment with any party identity – young voters and immigrants. They are classic swing voters. In response to almost every question in this survey, the poll shows that these two groups are the most likely not only to reject Mr Biden but also to distance themselves from the Democratic Party.

The simple reason for Mr Biden’s low numbers and ratings is, in a word, Gaza. When given 10 issues and asked to select the three most important to them, 60 per cent chose the war in Gaza. In addition, 57 per cent say that Gaza will be “very important” in determining their vote in November.

After eight months of Israel’s relentless assault on Palestinians in Gaza, 88 per cent of Arab Americans say they have a negative view of the way Mr Biden has handled the war, with overwhelming majorities across all party identification – with 87 per cent of both Republicans and Democrats, and almost 90 per cent of Independents and those with no party, having a negative view. Like many other voters, Arab Americans have opposed Biden administration policies supporting Israel’s war in Gaza.

The AAI poll also shows that if the President, even at this late date, were to dramatically change policy on Israel-Gaza, he could win back much of the support he has lost. In two separate questions, when asked if the President were to demand an immediate ceasefire and unimpeded humanitarian aid into Gaza or if he were to suspend diplomatic support and arms shipments to Israel until they implement a ceasefire and withdraw forces from Gaza, 60 per cent of Arab Americans say they would be more likely to vote for Mr Biden in November.

If Mr Biden were to dramatically change his approach, the poll shows that the Biden-Trump match-up numbers could change favourably for Mr Biden, due to these results coupled with Mr Trump’s declining numbers since our last poll.

Another observation can be culled from the polling data by comparing the percentages of the results in this AAI poll with the actual voter data in key states. For example, looking at Arab-American voters in Michigan, when we compare this poll’s expected 2024 results (Trump 28 per cent – Biden 15 per cent) with the Arab-American vote in 2020, we see a significant potential loss for Mr Biden of 91,000 in Michigan alone.

Polls provide snapshots of where voters are at any given moment. This poll confirms what we know – Mr Biden is losing Arab-American voters because of his policies on Palestine. It also shows that dramatically changing those policies can move some voters.

Published: June 11, 2024, 7:00 AM