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Arab American voters strongly prefer Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to Republican rival John McCain, according to a poll released Thursday.
The Zogby International survey's findings document a marked increase in Democratic affiliation among the constituency, which Arab American Institute President James Zogby attributed to frustration with Bush administration policies and attitudes toward the Arab community as well as a lack of outreach by the Republicans in the current campaign.
Obama bests McCain 54-33 in a two-way contest, according to the poll, with 46 percent of Arab Americans now identifying as Democrats in contrast to 20% who considered themselves Republican. The party gap was only 2% in 2000.
The survey also found that the economy was by far the most important issue to Arab American voters, with nearly twice as many respondents choosing it as one of their top two concerns than the next issue, the war in Iraq. The Palestinian issue ranked at the bottom.
And only 13% said they were voting for Obama based on foreign policy, with 41% indicating their backing was due to domestic issues. Numbers for McCain were not available.
The telephone poll of 501 Arab Americans was conducted between September 8 and 13 with a margin of error of 4.5%.
Many members of the Arab American community live in states hard hit by economic change, with the approximately half a million constituents in Michigan - a major swing state in the election - comprising some 5% of the state's electorate, according to Zogby.
At a recent issues forum there, Zogby noted that while he expected foreign policy to be a major focus, participants were more worried about losing their businesses and the problems racial profiling posed for their business travel.
"We could not get off the economy," he said, noting that despite third-party candidate Ralph Nader being perceived by the demographic as having the right Mideast positions, he's badly trailing the two major party competitors. "Ralph Nader's got all the best positions on the Middle East. He's got 6% in a four-way race. That's not where the mindset is at."
Even so, some of US President George W. Bush's foreign policy decisions have played a role in the sharp turn towards the Democrats in Arab support, according to Zogby. At the same time, he suggested that the way Arab Americans have been treated domestically has been more of an issue.
"The hostility has been felt and it has registered back," he asserted. "You reap what you sow."
He added that the Republicans' anemic outreach efforts this campaign cycle haven't helped.
"The Republican ticket has not been paying attention in a significant way to the Arab vote. Unlike efforts in the past, we have not seen significant outreach," he said. "On the Democratic side I'm seeing things that I've never seen before."
He pointed to Obama's hiring of Arab staff in several swing states and the creation of an Arab-American Web site, among other initiatives.
"They don't expect politics to change during a campaign, but they do have a sense that America's standing in the Middle East will change with a new administration," he said of Arab Americans' expectations about how this outreach translates into policy positions. "They want policy to change and they're geared up" to make that happen with whomever is elected, he added.