My fortnightly column in Salon.com is now out: “John McCain’s Arab-American Problem“.
‘ Arab-Americans do, however, have some distinctive concerns in common. They are more likely to care about the Iraq war and the Arab-Israeli peace process than other Americans. They are also particularly sensitive to racial profiling and assaults on civil liberties.
That has put them at odds with the Bush administration and the Republican Party, and has contributed to a hard swing toward the Democrats. After a plurality voted for Bush in 2000, the community favored Kerry in 2004 and has been increasingly trending Democratic. About 40 percent have been consistently Democratic since 2000, but the proportion identifying themselves as Republicans nationally has fallen in the past eight years from 38 percent to 26 percent.
Arab-Americans are both very likely to vote — their turnout is 20 percent higher than that of the general population — and they are concentrated. Two-thirds of them live in just 10 states, including the swing states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, Arab-Americans have made up 2 percent of the electorate in recent elections. That sounds like a small proportion, but in a close race it can make a difference. In 2000, Bush won the Arab-American vote over Gore by 7.5 percentage points. Bush took Ohio that year by only 165,000 votes. He and Gore virtually tied in Florida in the popular vote.
The Arab-American presence is most significant in Michigan. An estimated 300,000 Arab-Americans reside in the southeastern portion of the state. More than a third of Michigan’s Arab-Americans have Lebanese ancestry; most of that population is Shiite. Another third of the state’s Arab-Americans are Iraqi, and many of those residents are Christian.
In other words, up to 5 percent of Michigan’s vote is Arab-American. The Democratic candidate has won the state in each of the last two presidential elections by no more than 200,000 votes. Recent polling suggests that in a head-to-head contest between John McCain and Barack Obama, the two would split the state down the middle. Many analysts believe that the Democrats cannot win in November without winning Michigan.’