How Arab-American voters could affect the presidential election

There are about 2.5 million Arab-American voters in the US

Arab-American voters are bringing the Middle East to this year's White House race

Arab-American voters are bringing the Middle East to this year's White House race
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This year is shaping up to be a repeat of 2020 when it comes to the US presidential election, with Joe Biden expected to again face off against Donald Trump.

But both candidates have a much different set of challenges to deal with than the previous election, with Mr Biden facing growing criticism over his approach to the Israel-Gaza war.

The most vocal critics of his Gaza policy have been Arab and Muslim Americans, with many in the communities angry over his staunch support of Israel and slow response to the growing humanitarian crisis in the besieged enclave.

Mr Biden has sent billions in military aid to Israel while directing the US ambassador to the UN to veto a series of Security Council resolutions calling for an immediate ceasefire.

But Mr Trump is also a strong supporter of Israel. While in office, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and in 2017, he enacted the so-called Muslim ban, which blocked citizens from Muslim-majority countries from coming to the US.

He has sworn to reinstate the ban if elected.

Can Arab Americans affect the election?

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told The National that historically, the bloc has leaned Democrat by four to five points.

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, those numbers changed, with two Democratic voters to every Republican.

“The most recent poll we did, however, showed a complete reversal, with Arab-American Democrats falling below Arab-American Republicans for the first time,” Mr Zogby said.

There are about 2.5 million Arab-American voters in the US, mostly in the mid-Atlantic region, as well as Michigan, Florida and California.

Michigan is a crucial swing state and has the highest density of Arab-American voters.

In 2016, Mr Trump took the state with a little more than 13,000 votes, while Mr Biden won it in 2020 with about 100,000 votes.

Muslim and Arab Americans in Michigan protest against Biden – in pictures

During the state primaries this year, activists in Michigan launched a campaign encouraging Democrats to vote uncommitted to protest against Mr Biden's Gaza policy.

Arab-American voters led the campaign, but they were far from the only ones taking part.

“[There is] nothing that Biden can come here and say to us as an empty platitude to try to win our votes back,” voter Mariam Tout told The National at an event held in support of the "uncommitted" movement.

“It is all going to be just really disrespectful.”

The campaign in Michigan had aimed to get 10,000 people to vote uncommitted, but more than 100,000 Democratic voters marked the uncommitted box.

Not all states offer the uncommitted option during their respective primaries, but since Michigan, campaigns are gearing up in states that do have the option.

Washington state's largest union endorsed voting uncommitted, saying there were concerns about Mr Biden's political strength in addition to his stance on Gaza.

This is despite Mr Biden, who joined car workers on the picket line in Michigan last year in a presidential first, describing himself as the most pro-union US leader in history.

The uncommitted campaign has spread to Minnesota, which has a significant Somali and Muslim-American population.

While it is not a battleground state, 20 per cent of Democrats there voted uncommitted at the March 5 primary, instead of backing Mr Biden.

Since the Michigan vote, US Vice President Kamala Harris has called for a ceasefire and the US has started to parachute aid into the Gaza Strip, but it is not clear that those actions will sway alienated Democrats to vote in November.

Updated: March 07, 2024, 6:44 AM