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What polls can teach us about Arab American voters in 2024

Jun 15,2024 - Last updated at Jun 15,2024

The media often takes a simplistic view of political polls. In a presidential election year, attention focuses entirely on who is up and who is down.

But these “horse race” numbers, while important, are the least consequential part of a poll. The rich data under the match-up provides far more useful information, for example, why a candidate is doing well or poorly. A deep dive into the data can also reveal among which component groups of the electorate the candidates are doing better or worse. Finally, a poll can provide candidates with understanding about how to improve their position.

Ignoring this nuance, journalists who simply report the top-line results miss the poll’s more valuable findings. Case in point is the May 2024 poll, conducted for the Arab American Institute (AAI) by John Zogby Strategies, of a random sample of 900 Arab American registered voters in key states, representative of the demographics of the community.

Coverage of the AAI poll noted that while in 2020 Biden bested former President Donald Trump by 59%-35% among Arab Americans, Biden is now losing to Trump by 32%-18%. While true, this misses much more revealing details.

While “not sure” and third-party candidates received less than 10% support in 2020, that segment is 50% this year. The main reason is that 40% of Arab Americans say they are “not enthusiastic at all,” and 21% are “not really enthusiastic,” about casting a vote in November, increasing the percentage of those who aren’t sure for whom they’ll vote (or if they will vote at all) in November. This lack of enthusiasm is most evident among Democratic voters, 50% of whom aren’t “enthusiastic at all,” compared to 11% of Republicans.

The AAI poll also shows that 79% of Arab Americans have an unfavorable view of President Biden, while 55% have an unfavorable view of Trump. Biden’s negative ratings are largely driven by the 56% of Democrats who view him unfavorably. Trump’s numbers are higher because he retains near-total support of Republicans.

Biden’s most significant losses among Arab Americans occurred among two groups who lean heavily toward the Democratic Party but have the most tenuous attachment with party identification, young voters and immigrants, classic swing voters. Throughout the survey, these respondents are the most likely to reject Biden and distance themselves from the Democratic Party.

The simple reason for Biden’s low numbers and ratings is, in a word, Gaza. Given 10 issues and asked to select the three most important, 60% chose the war in Gaza. And 57% say Gaza will be “very important” in determining their vote in November.

After 8 months of Israel’s relentless assault on Palestinians in Gaza, 88% of Arab Americans have a negative view of Biden’s handling of the war, including 87% of both Republicans and Democrats, and almost 90% of Independents and those with no party. Like many other voters, Arab Americans have opposed Biden administration policies supporting Israel’s war in Gaza.

The AAI poll also shows that if the president, even now, were to dramatically change policy on Israel/Gaza, he could potentially win back much of the support he’s lost. Asked if the president were to demand an immediate ceasefire and unimpeded humanitarian aid into Gaza, or to suspend diplomatic support and arms shipments to Israel until they implement a ceasefire and withdraw forces from Gaza, 60% of Arab Americans say they’d be more likely to vote for Biden. If Biden were to dramatically change his approach, the poll shows that the Biden/Trump match-up numbers could change favorably forBiden, due to these results coupled with Trump’s declining numbers since our last poll.

Another observation can be culled from the polling data by comparing the results of this AAI poll with the actual voter data in key states. Looking at Arab American voters in Michigan, comparing this poll’s expected 2024 results (Trump 28%- Biden 15%) with the actual 2020 vote, we see a significant potential loss for President Biden of 91,000 in Michigan alone.

Polls provide snapshots of where voters are at any given moment. This poll confirms what we know, President Biden is hemorrhaging Arab American voters because of his policies on Palestine. It also shows that dramatically changing those policies can move some voters.

 

The writer is president of the Washinton-based Arab American Institute

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