Arab American Voters in 2010: Their Identity and Attitudes towards Obama and the Mid-terms

A poll of Arab American voters completed just one month before the 2010 mid-term elections shows Arab Americans favoring Democrats over Republicans by a wide margin. The poll also reveals the community divided in its assessment of President Barack Obama’s job performance, with pluralities 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, Americans of Arab descent can be seen maintaining 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, 2010. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/- 5 percent, was sponsored by the Arab American Institute Foundation which has sponsored bi-annual surveys of Arab American voters since 1996.

The poll examined three major areas:

I.) Identity, Pride, and Discrimination.

There was an increase in the number of respondents who identify as "Arab American". The 62 % who so identify in 2010 shows the continuation of an upward trend that began in the mid-1990’s when only 51% described themselves as Arab Americans. This number has edged upward ever since. And over 90% say that they are "proud of their ethnicity", this despite the fact that more than two in five report 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%, while among Arab Americans who are Christian the percentage is a somewhat lower but still high 35%.

Finally, continuing a trend that began in 2004, significantly more Arab Americans identify as Democrats (50%) than those who identify as Republican (25%).

II.) The 2010 Political Landscape.

Arab Americans are somewhat more optimistic about the direction of the country, than voters at large, with 36% saying the country is on the "right track" as opposed to 48% who say it is on the "wrong track" (some polls show that among the electorate at large less than 20% say the U.S. is on the "right track"). But like the rest of American voters, Arab Americans give Congress a very low 18% approval rating. They also give both parties in Congress poor performance ratings, with Democrats scoring a low 24% approval and the GOP an even lower 13%.

What are the key issues on the minds of Arab American voters? By far and away, it’s "jobs and the economy" for 70%, followed by "the war in Iraq, Middle East peace and other foreign policy concerns" at 30%, and health care which scores high for 24% of Arab American voters (these issues and the scores they receive 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.

III.) President Obama’s Job Performance.

Arab Americans, who strongly backed Barack Obama, with 67% supporting his bid for the presidency in 2008, still have a favorable, though somewhat diminished view of this President’s job performance. His approval rating in the community is 51% favorable against a 48% unfavorable rating. On most issues (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 the President’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, increasingly self-identified and proud, displaying 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.