Posted on October 14, 1996 in Washington Watch

A national poll of Arab American voters conducted during the first week of October reveals that the community supports President Bill Clinton’s reelection.

The national poll shows Bill Clinton leading Bob Dole by 14%, a margin equal to the President’s standing among all voters. However, in the Midwestern and Eastern states, home to about two-thirds of the Arab American community, the President’s lead climbs to 21%. Clinton’s lead is only 2% among Arab Americans in the South.

The poll which was commissioned by Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) and the Arab American Institute (AAI) tested Arab American attitudes about the Presidential campaign in addition to several domestic and foreign policy issues.

Of equal importance, the poll also provided significant demographic information about the Arab American community and its internal composition. The result of over one year of testing and screening, the poll and the national data base of Arab American voters from which the poll was drawn, provide important information about the community.

For example, the results indicate that 46% of Arab Americans are Lebanese, 13% are Palestinian, 11% are Syrian, and 9% are Egyptian.

The data base used for the poll also shows that 31% of Arab Americans are Catholic, 29% are Orthodox or Protestant Christian, and 29% are Muslim.

In the poll the percentage of Arab Americans who are born in the U.S. and those born overseas are roughly equal, the attitudes of both segments of the community nevertheless display similar attitudes on most major issues. Both groups maintain strong feelings and ties to the Arab world. 76% have family and friends in the Middle East and 92% closely follow news about the Middle East.

88% of all Arab Americans polled say that a candidate’s position on Middle East issues is important in determining their vote on election day.

To some extent this concern about Middle East policy accounts for Arab American voter preference in the Presidential race. Since 59% agree that President Clinton has done a good job trying to keep the Middle East peace process on track, with only 33% feeling he has not, it is not surprising that Arab Americans of Palestinian and Jordanian descent would favor the President’s reelection by a 54% to 15% margin. On the other hand, with Arab American attitudes evenly divided on the question of whether “U.S. policy has positively contributed to Lebanon’s sovereignty”—39% to 42%—it is not surprising that the President’s lead among Lebanese and Syrian Americans is only 42% to 41%.

There are other “gaps” in the Arab American voter group that are similar to those among the rest of the American voting public. For example, there is a gender gap. Arab American women favor Bill Clinton over Bob Dole by 17.5%, while the President’s lead over Bob Dole among Arab American men is only 10%. Among Arab Americans under fifty years of age, the President’s lead is a huge 50% to 23.5%, while among those over fifty, the President is tied with Republican Bob Dole.

Other evidence that the attitudes of Arab American voters fit into the mainstream of the American voting public can be seen in the fact that the Arab Americans polled say that the most important issues for them in this year’s election are education, crime, the drug problem, and health care. They, like the rest of U.S. voters, give the President the highest grades in dealing with education, crime, and health care, but give Bob Dole the highest score in dealing with the drug problem. They also rate Bob Dole as better than Bill Clinton in the areas of integrity and personal character.

When released, the MBC/AAI poll received significant national press coverage. The entire one-hour press conference was repeated four times on C-SPAN, the nation’s premiere political television channel. It also received extensive coverage on other television and radio programs nationwide. The poll was also reported in newspapers and political newsletters across the U.S.

Arab Americans are a fast-growing ethnic constituency in the U.S. Their concentration in the key electoral states and major metropolitan centers in the U.S., coupled with their growing political effectiveness, have drawn attention to the community in this election year. In addition, as a bridge to a critical region of the world, the attitudes of Arab Americans are important to U.S. policy makers.

With only three weeks before the national Presidential elections and since the race may be tightening (recent polls show that the President’s lead is now only 9 to 11%) both Arab American Democrats and Republicans will be working with their respective campaigns to develop support within the community for their chosen candidates,

Arab American Republicans are having some difficulties, however, somewhat reminiscent of the problems Arab American Democrats faced in the 1980’s. Despite repeated appeals by high-level Arab American Republicans, until now, Bob Dole has failed even to meet with his Arab American supporters. Nevertheless, the Dole campaign has recognized an Arab Americans for Dole Committee and is attempting to work with the community.

Arab American Democrats, on the other hand, are feeling quite good about the attention being paid to their efforts by the Clinton/Gore campaign and the national Democratic Party. Unlike the 1980’s when the support of Arab Americans was ignored by Democratic candidates, this year the Clinton/Gore campaign hosted an endorsement ceremony at its campaign headquarters. At that press conference a Clinton campaign manager received the endorsement of twenty-five Arab American leaders and welcomed the formation of the official Arab Americans for Clinton/Gore Committee. In addition the campaign is sending surrogate speakers to Arab American events, Arab American television and radio programs, and even taking out paid advertisements in Arab American newspapers encouraging Arab Americans to vote for Democratic candidates in 1996.

In many ways the MBC/AAI poll contributes to the Arab American political effort in 1996. It demonstrates the new sophistication of Arab American voters and highlights the issues of concern to this community. As such it provides useful information to political candidates and organizations who seek to understand the needs and concerns of the Arab American community.

The MBC/AAI poll was conducted by the John Zogby Group, International, Inc. John Zogby is the pollster for the Reuters News Agency, Fox TV News, and the New York Post. He is also the election year political commentator for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

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