Amidst the sound and fury surrounding the war between Israel and Hamas, there’s been some loose talk about Biden imperiling his reelection by standing so firmly with Israel. I looked at the numbers, and wrote a cautionary note at New York:
In the furor over Joe Biden’s response to the Israel-Hamas war, one of the more interesting reactions is the supposition that Democrats are in dire danger of losing large numbers of votes from Arab Americans and/or Muslim Americans, risking their defeat in a number of critical states in November 2024.
“President Biden’s support among Arab American voters has sharply decreased since the Israel-Hamas war, plummeting to dismal and unprecedented numbers.
“Support for his upcoming reelection bid from Arab Americans dropped by 42 percentage points, from 59 percent in 2020 to 17 percent, according to a new poll conducted by the Arab American Institute …
“The poll found that if the election were held today, 40 percent said they would vote for former President Trump, the GOP front-runner …
“The institute said the poll marks the first time in the 26 years it has polled Arab Americans that the majority did not claim to prefer the Democratic Party.”
Both support for third-party options (17 percent) and an undecided vote (25 percent) spiked in this poll. And, of course, the sponsors pointed out that “Arab Americans account for hundreds of thousands of voters in several key election states, like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where the 2024 election battleground will play out.” (At the same time, a group calling itself the National Muslim Democratic Counsel gave Biden and Democrats an “ultimatum” to support an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza or potentially forfeit Muslim votes in “Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, where many of our voters reside.”)
So is this backlash as alarming as it sounds? It’s certainly significant, but there are some important qualifiers to address before weighing the effect on Biden’s and his party’s 2024 prospects.
First of all, there’s a tendency among Americans who aren’t closely in touch with Arab and Islamic communities to conflate the two. That’s a major mistake. Roughly one-fourth of Arab Americans are Muslim (a significant majority are Christian). And roughly one-fourth of American Muslims (or less by some estimates) are of Arab ethnicity. Michigan with its heavy concentration of Arab Muslims is probably an outlier.
Measuring Muslim or Arab political leanings isn’t easy, either, since neither category is deployed regularly by Census takers or exit-pollsters.
Since neither the U.S. Census or exit pollsters break out Arab or Islamic Americans systematically, any analysis of voting preferences for either group is less than completely authoritative, though it is clear both Arab Americans and Islamic Americans trended Democratic following September 11. The Arab American Institute’s portrayal of massive losses of support for Biden ’24 should be taken with a grain of salt since it was conducted by pollster John Zogby, whose methodologies have long drawn criticism from experts in the field.
That is not to say that Democrats shouldn’t worry about evidence of voter estrangement over Biden’s war policies (which will likely extend beyond Arab Americans and Muslims to include self-identified progressives and younger voters). In a close election like 2024 is expected to be, relatively small numbers of voters in battleground states can be crucial.
Without question, Democrats should make it clear that the GOP under Donald Trump is far from representing a safe haven for voters unhappy with U.S. policies toward Israel and Palestinians. Aside from Trump’s abundant history of Islamophobia and encouragement of Israel’s most extreme right-wing elements, he and his party are going to be seriously constrained from any “even-handedness” by their conservative Evangelical electoral base, in which disempowerment of Palestinian Arabs (along with general hostility to Muslims) is theologically blessed and even mandated. Trump as the Republican nominee could make a crucial difference between a mere lack of enthusiasm for Biden and a decision to vote for a third-party candidate or for no one at all.