Posted by Maya Berry on March 09, 2016 in Blog

Senator Bernie Sanders' upset victory in Michigan is rightly producing headlines today. However, some of the narrative includes tired and old assumptions about the fact that Senator Sanders won the city of Dearborn, home to the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the country. 

So when you read the 'Arabs vote for Jew' headlines, please pause for a moment and think about the following three takeaways from the Michigan results. 

1. Bernie Sanders won the Arab American vote because he successfully courted the Arab American vote. You win elections by receiving the highest number of votes from people. It is certainly stating the obvious, but voters want to know you care about them and their views.

This means, when you host campaign events, you make sure Arab American voters are well represented. When you hold a rally in Dearborn the Monday before the election, you take the time to do a private clutch meeting with members of the Arab American community. When you devise your media strategy for the state, you recognize Arab Americans are 5% of the vote and can swing the election so you produce radio ads in Arabic for local ethnic radio. Even further, you tailor your social media strategy to expressly push back on the xenophobic rhetoric of the current campaign with inclusive messages in multiple languages, including Arabic. And to be clear, all of this only works if the candidate’s policies are resonating with that community, which was the case with Arab Americans and Senator Sanders.

2. Arab Americans are not a single issue constituency. Americans of Arab descent care deeply about issues affecting their countries of origin—whether the devastation in Yemen, the brutal war in Syria, the stability of Lebanon, the ongoing violence in Iraq or so much more. And even with all those considerations, justice for Palestine is paramount. Advocating for a just resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been and continues to be a foundational issue for the Arab American community. Having said that, Palestine or other foreign policy concerns, are generally not how Arab American voters decide to cast their ballot. In our extensive polling of Arab American voters, the issues that regularly rank as priorities include jobs and the economy, heath care, immigration, education and foreign policy. Yes, we care and are knowledgeable about foreign policies issues, but it is not the determinant factor for our vote. Neither is that candidate’s ethnicity or religion. And for those looking for the novelty in Arab Americans supporting a Jewish candidate, it is clear they don’t know a lot about Michigan or it’s longest serving senator, Senator Carl Levin.

3. Arab Americans in Dearborn are a unique demographic of the broader 3.7 million-strong Arab American community. Nationally, a majority of Arab Americans are Christian and the largest segment of American Muslims are Black. While the two communities are commonly conflated, they are not the same.  Dearborn is unique in that the vast majority of Arab Americans living in Dearborn are Muslim. If you want to make generalizations about who Arab American voters are backing, Dearborn is not the place and if you want to do the same for the American Muslim community, Dearborn is also not the place. Dearborn is an interesting snapshot of one amazing and vibrant ethnic community, one that has regrettably been the target of hatred, but remains resilient and continues to thrive as a wonderful place to live, visit and eat really good Arabic food.