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U.S.: Poll Shows Arab Americans Turning Away From Bush

A new poll of Arab-Americans in four states that could help decide the upcoming presidential election in November finds that President George W. Bush has lost the support he once enjoyed among members of this ethnic group. The poll surveyed 500 Arab-Americans in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Analysts interviewed by RFE/RL say Arab-Americans reject the Iraq war and the president Middle East policy.

Washington, 28 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The poll, conducted by James Zogby of Zogby International, shows Arab-Americans have the same needs and concerns as any other immigrant community in the United States.

Like Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans, the issues they find most important are the economy, taxes, and national security.

But while other polls indicate that Americans as a whole are evenly split between Bush and his challenger, Senator John Kerry (Democrat, Massachusetts), Arab-Americans prefer Kerry over Bush by nearly two-to-one: 54 percent favor Kerry and 28 percent favor Bush.

The reasons have to do with issues that resonate more deeply with Arab-Americans than they do with other citizens. One is the war in Iraq. The poll found 48 percent preferred Kerry on that issue, and 34 preferred Bush.

Raeed Tayeh, the communications director of the advocacy group American Muslims for Jerusalem, told RFE/RL that many Arab-Americans once cheered Bush for toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but now believe that the war was waged not to help the Iraqi people, but to make the U.S. war on terrorism easier to fight.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is among the most important issues for Arab-Americans.

"I think that the situation in Iraq is just about as bad as it could possibly get," Tayeh said. "Many [Arab Americans] do not like the fact that Iraq has been staged as the center of the war on terrorism. Either by happenstance or by design, we have attracted many of our enemies to one location. And that's a benefit in the war on terror because it makes it much simpler to destroy our enemy. But in the process, the civilian population of Iraq are paying the price."

Tayeh also said that Arab-Americans are offended by the reduction in civil liberties exemplified by the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which Congress passed three years ago at the urging of Bush's attorney general, John Ashcroft. Tayeh points to the closing of Islamic charities, the stricter visa rules for Arabs and Muslims, and the singling out of Arabs and Muslims at security checkpoints.

"Those things have really affected the Arab-American community," Tayeh said. "People are more timid about their behavior. People are worried that when they fly, they may be picked out for random questioning or additional searches. It's kind of a no-brainer that John Kerry and the traditional staunch support for civil liberties and civil rights in the Democratic Party would serve our community better than another four years of George Bush and John Ashcroft."

Nathan Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, agreed that Bush may have squandered the goodwill of Arab-American voters.

Brown recalled that when Bush was running for president in 2000 -- a year before terrorism became a major issue in America -- he repeatedly told Arab-American audiences that he would stop police and other security officials from singling out Arabs and Muslims as potential suspects.

"This was a community that had a lot of enthusiastic Bush supporters back four years ago, [but] he just hasn't been the president they thought they were voting for," Brown said. "Bush is going to bear responsibility in this community for [the] Patriot Act, homeland security, immigration controls, and so on and -- rightly or wrongly -- these have a reputation in the Arab-American community of targeting them indiscriminately."

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is among the most important issues for Arab-Americans, according to the Zogby poll. In it, 38 percent of respondents would prefer Kerry to handle that issue as president, while only 25 percent prefer Bush.

Both Brown and Tayeh agree that Kerry's relatively small advantage on this issue reflects his long-term support of Israel. But Tayeh said that Arab-Americans believe Kerry may put more pressure on the Israeli government to pursue a just peace, while they see Bush's approach as blindly supporting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Brown also noted that like any other ethnic group, the longer Arab-Americans live in the United States, the less they will vote as an ethnic group and the more they will vote as mainstream Americans.