What emerges from a recent poll is a profile of a community with an increasing sense of identity that displays a sophisticated and nuanced view of politics.
Arab Americans' sense of identity is strengthening
A poll of Arab American voters completed one month before the 2010 mid-term elections shows Arab Americans favouring Democrats over Republicans by a wide margin.
The poll also reveals that the community is divided in its assessment of Barack Obama's job performance, with the plurality satisfied with his handling of most major issues, except the economy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And finally, despite an increase in the percentage of Arab Americans who report having experienced discrimination because of their ethnic background, most maintain significant pride in their ethnicity.
These are just a few of the findings of a nationwide survey of 404 Arab American voters conducted by Zogby International during the last week of September. The poll, which had a margin of error of 5 per cent, was sponsored by the Arab American Institute Foundation, which has sponsored biannual surveys of Arab American voters since 1996. The poll examined three major areas: identity, pride and discrimination. There was an increase in the number of Americans of Arab descent who identified themselves as "Arab American". The 62 per cent of respondents who identified themselves as Arab Americans showed a continuation of an upward trend that began in the mid-1990s, when only 51 per cent described themselves as Arab Americans. This number has edged upward ever since.
More than 90 per cent say that they are "proud of their ethnicity", despite the fact that more than two in five reported having "experienced discrimination because of their ethnic background". It is important to note that among Arab Americans who are Muslim, the percentage who report having been discriminated against because of their ethnicity is a much higher 62 per cent. Among Arab Americans who are Christian, the percentage is lower but still high at 35 per cent.
Finally, continuing a trend that began in 2004, significantly more Arab Americans identify as Democrats (50 per cent) than those who identify as Republican (25 per cent). In the political landscape, Arab Americans are somewhat more optimistic about the direction of the country than voters at large, with 36 per cent saying the country is on the "right track" as opposed to 48 per cent who say it is on the "wrong track" (some polls show that among the electorate at large, less than 20 per cent say the US is on the right track).
But like the rest of American voters, Arab Americans give Congress a very low 18 per cent approval rating. They also give both parties in Congress poor performance ratings, with Democrats scoring a low 24 per cent approval and the GOP an even lower 13 per cent. What are the key issues on the minds of Arab American voters? By far and away, it's "jobs and the economy" for 70 per cent, followed by "the war in Iraq, Middle East peace and other foreign policy concerns" at 30 per cent, and health care which scores high for 24 per cent of Arab American voters. These issues and scores are nearly identical to the rankings and ratings they received in our 2008 poll. On virtually every one of these issues, respondents said Democrats would do a better job than Republicans, often by margins of more than two to one.
Arab Americans, who strongly backed Barack Obama with 67 per cent supporting his bid for the presidency in 2008, still have a favourable, although somewhat diminished view of his job performance. His approval rating in the community is 51 per cent favourable against a 48 per cent unfavourable rating. On most issues - Mr Obama's "outreach to Arabs and Muslims", "ending torture", "handling of the war in Iraq", "health care", and "protecting civil liberties" - a plurality of Arab American voters say they are satisfied with the job he has done. A plurality is dissatisfied with Mr Obama's performance on only one issue, and that is his "handling of the economy".
On his "handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict", those who are satisfied and those who are dissatisfied are evenly split, with a plurality saying "it's too early to tell" how well the president has performed. What emerges from these results is a profile of a community with an increasing sense of identity that displays a sophisticated and nuanced view of politics. They hold views that are often within the mainstream, but on matters of particular concern, they speak their minds and vote accordingly.
James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute