Poll: 'Overwhelming' support for Obama among Arab Americans

Reasons cited include Democratic candidate's perspective on the Middle East, frustration with the current administration and the war in Iraq.

obama points 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
obama points 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Arab Americans remain steadfast in their support for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, according to a recent survey by the Arab-American Institute which confirmed results of a poll conducted in May. An institute poll in May showed that 39 percent of Arab American Democrats polled favored Obama and 36% favored Sen. Hillary Clinton. At the time, Obama was relatively unknown, and his supporters have since grown. An informal survey of community activists and leaders conducted a month ago showed "overwhelming" support for Obama, according to James Zogby, president of the institute. The number of those favoring Obama was double that of all other candidates combined. "Today the numbers are probably higher," said Zogby. Reasons cited for their support of Obama over Democratic candidates Clinton and former senator John Edwards include his perspective on the Middle East, his outspoken concern for civil liberties - an issue of particular concern to Arab Americans - frustration with the current administration and the war in Iraq. Zogby traces Arab American support for Obama to a speech he gave at the Democratic Convention in 2004, when he first burst onto the national radar. "People remember that speech, and often say, 'I will never forget how he spoke about Arab Americans, saying that whenever someone insults or hurts Arab Americans, I am hurt too,'" said Zogby. "We were in the throes of the 9/11 backlash, and it was a remarkable speech in the middle of all that. People felt included, in a community that usually felt excluded. Here they were being treated, not only as part of the mainstream, but part of the mainstream people cared about." An article that appeared in the Lebanese Daily Star on Tuesday encouraged Arab Americans to vote for Obama. Arab Americans should not expect a radical change in US foreign policy in the Middle East, regardless of who wins the 2008 elections, the article suggests. "However, if Barack Obama wins, there is hope that he will be more open on the matter of Middle East justice than other front-runners in the presidential race," writes Ghassan Rubeiz, an Arab American commentator. "The Obama factor includes many advantages: An international perspective, compassion for minorities, and sensitivity to issues of health care, poverty, and climate change. And finally, Obama has a vision for serious change in domestic and foreign policy." "Obama is about hope," wrote Rubeiz, and "what is good for America should be good for Arab Americans." Like the Jewish community, Arab Americans, who are roughly 75% Christian and 25% Muslim, vote largely Democratic, said Zogby. "And we expect that trend to continue; I don't see anyone on the Republican side reversing policies people care about." "What made Bill Clinton different [from other candidates] is that both Jews and Arabs felt he didn't see a difference between the communities, and we are looking for a candidate [like Clinton] that doesn't see the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict as zero sum," Zogby said. "We find when we do polling, that our community likes to see their views converge with Jews on peace issues."