Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Oct 25 2006 (IPS) — Increasingly disillusioned with more than five years of the “global war on terror”, Arab- and Muslim-American voters are poised to vote heavily Democratic in the Nov. 7 mid-term elections, according to two polls released this week.

Strong majorities of Arab-American voters in four key states – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida – intend to vote for the Democratic candidates for senator, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Arab American Institute (AAI).

The same poll, conducted by Zogby International (ZI), found that a whopping 76 percent of Arab Americans disapprove of the performance of President George W. Bush, who received a 46 percent plurality of the Arab-American vote when he was first elected to office six years ago.

Asked which party they would prefer to control Congress, 57 percent of Arab Americans chose Democrats, while only 26 percent said they favoured Republican control. That was a considerably larger gap than the general voting public which, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday, favours a Democratic Congress by a 57-40 percent margin.

Another survey of Muslim-American voters released here by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Tuesday also found widespread disillusionment with Bush, for whom a majority of Muslim Americans voted in 2000, particularly regarding the war on terror and foreign policy.

That poll, conducted by Genesis Research Associates in August, found that only 17 percent of Muslim-American voters consider themselves Republican now, while a plurality of 42 percent said they were Democrats and 28 percent said they did not belong to either party.

The same survey, in which Muslims were identified from voting records by common names prevalent among Muslims and thus did not include converts who did not change their legal names, also found widespread disapproval of the U.S. policies toward the Islamic world.

Seven in 10 respondents agreed with the statement, “A just resolution to the Palestinian cause would improve America’s standing in the Muslim world;” two-thirds said they were in favour of “working toward normalisation of relations with Iran”; and 55 percent agreed with the assertion that “The war on terror has become a war on Islam.”

Some seventy percent of Muslim voters said they disagreed (46 percent “strongly disagreed”) with the proposition that “The war in Iraq has been worthwhile for America,” while only 12 percent said they believed that it was. By contrast, only 39 percent of the U.S. general public currently believes that the U.S. military action in Iraq was the “right thing”, according to the most recent Newsweek poll published this week.

While overlapping, the CAIR and AAI poll represent different constituencies. About two-thirds of the roughly 3.5 million Arab Americans living here are Christian – mostly either Roman Catholic or Orthodox – rather than Muslim.

Similarly, only about 40 percent of Muslim Americans or their ancestors hail from the Arab world. Nearly one in three is of Asian ancestry, another six percent is African, and five percent Iranian. Of the roughly five million Muslim Americans, about one million are registered to vote, according to Mohamed Nimer, who conducted the CAIR survey.

In 2000, Bush gained the largest percentage of votes from both groups due primarily to his outspoken opposition to ethnic profiling and the widespread impression, based on the performance of his father’s administration from 1989 to 1993, that he would be more sympathetic to Arab and Palestinian aspirations than the administration of President Bill Clinton.

That impression, of course, turned out to be unfounded as Bush, more than any other modern president, has aligned his Middle East policies behind those of the Israeli government. And while publicly, Bush still opposes ethnic profiling, reports of hate crimes and harassment of suspected Arab- and Muslim-Americans have risen sharply since the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

While the Arab-American population is disproportionately concentrated in a relatively few states, notably California and New York, AAI and Zogby have focused their polling over the past six years on the four “battleground” states, both because of the residence there of a significant numbers of Arab-American voters and because the electorates of all four are divided roughly evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

All four are also holding elections for both governor and senator this year, and the poll found that the Democratic candidates for each are strongly favoured among Arab Americans. Incumbent Democratic Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, for example, holds a 67-22 percent lead among Arab-American voters; in Ohio, Democrat Ted Strickland is favoured by a 60-21 percent margin in the gubernatorial race; and Michigan’s incumbent Jennifer Granholm is favoured by a 61-29 percent margin.

The races for Senate are even more lop-sided. In three of the four races, the Democratic candidates, including the Pennsylvania contest in which the Republican incumbent Rick Santorum has been a strong booster of Bush’s war on terrorism and was one of the first national politicians to use the word “Islamofascism”, lead by a two-to-one margin. Even in Michigan, where Republicans are running an Arab American, Michael Bouchard, Arab American voters prefer the Democratic incumbent, Debbie Stabenow, by a 54-31 percent margin.

According to the poll, Arab Americans consider corruption to be the single most important issue in deciding how they vote, followed closely by the war in Iraq, civil liberties, Palestine, and Lebanon. By a margin of more than two to one, respondents said they believed Democrats would do a better job than Republicans on each issue.

The CAIR survey, which interviewed 1,000 randomly chosen registered Muslim voters, was the first of its kind and more general in scope, even if necessarily incomplete due to the absence of Muslim voters with traditionally non-Islamic names – including, for example, Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democratic legislator, who is given a good chance of becoming the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress in the Nov. 7 elections. About 60 percent of respondents were men, and 80 percent of respondents were concentrated in 12 states, led by California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas.

Compared to the general U.S. population, it found that Muslim voters were much younger, significantly more educated – 62 percent had at least a bachelor degree, or twice the national average – and more Democratic in party identification.

It also found a wide range of religious observance: 31 percent said they attended mosque on a weekly basis; 16 percent, once a month; and 27 percent, rarely or never. Most respondents said they considered themselves “just Muslims”, avoiding sectarian distinctions. Thirty-six percent said they are Sunni; 12 percent said they were Shia; two percent Sufi; and less than half of one percent “Salafi”.

Like Arab Americans, Muslim-American voters considered domestic issues, rather than foreign policy, to be most important. Nearly half rated either civil liberties or education at the top of their list, while 20 percent named “conflicts in Palestine and Lebanon” as their most important concern, and 18 percent cited the “wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”.

The poll found that Muslim-American voters appeared well-integrated into U.S. society. Nearly 90 percent said they vote regularly; two-thirds said they fly the U.S. flag on occasion; and 42 percent – or about 50 percent more than the general population – said they volunteered in institutions serving the public.

On general issues, 84 percent said Muslims should strongly emphasise shared values with Christians and Jews, and 77 percent said they believe that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews.


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