By Ray Hanania
Four of the seven battleground states that will play a crucial role in deciding the outcome of next month’s US presidential election have large Arab American populations, meaning that the community could have a significant say on whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden wins the White House.
Data provided by the Arab American Institute, based on the 2002 election, shows that Arab Americans have large populations in 12 American states — eight that were won by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 and four that were won by Trump. The former were won with sizable
Democratic margins, which means they are unlikely to switch to backing the president on Nov. 3. But the latter were all won narrowly, which means their votes will again have a significant impact this time around.
The four states that backed Trump were Michigan (which has an Arab American population of 400,000), Florida (270,000), Ohio (160,000) and Pennsylvania (150,000). Trump beat Clinton in Michigan, which has 16 Electoral College votes, by fewer than 11,000 votes or 0.23 percent. In Florida (29 Electoral College votes), the margin was about 113,000 or 1.2 percent. Ohio’s 18 Electoral College votes went to Trump thanks to his margin of 400,000 or 8.1 percent. And Trump won Pennsylvania by only 44,000 votes, 0.7 percent, giving him another 20 Electoral College votes.
If the Democrats and their 2020 candidate, former Vice President Biden, can hold the 20 states plus the District of Columbia that Clinton won in 2016, that would give them 232 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. That means Biden would need only a minimum of 38 further votes to take the presidency away from Trump, whose Middle East policies are seemingly bringing peace to the region but causing anguish for Arab Americans. In this situation, winning just Michigan and Florida would give Biden 45 electoral votes and overall victory.
When we speak about Arab American voters in these states, we are using outdated numbers, mainly because the US government has resisted counting Arabs in the national census. But we can extrapolate the numbers to reflect the growth that America’s population has seen in the 18 years since 2002, which stands at 15.1 percent.
If the number of Arab Americans has increased by a similar amount, they will have a greater say in the states where they are concentrated and be more potent as a voting community as a result. However, many pundits like myself believe that, if accurately counted, the Arab population of the US would be higher than — probably even double — previous estimates, making their vote even more significant and something no candidate should take for granted.
It is for this reason that Biden has made an extra effort to reach out to Arab Americans in both Michigan and Florida, issuing a six-page “partnership plan” that recognizes the importance of the Arab American population. It makes many specific campaign pledges, including reversing Trump’s “Muslim ban,” increasing the number of Middle Eastern refugees who can enter the US, softening immigration restrictions imposed by Trump, and ending the practice of stereotyping Arabs and Muslims in the war against international terrorism, including by revamping the “watchlist” and “no-fly list” that are heavy with Arab and Muslim names.
Biden has also said he will not criminalize free speech, as more than 30 states have done with their anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) laws, although he has said he opposes the movement’s boycott of Israel.
This plan, which is unprecedented for any presidential candidate in terms of addressing Arab American concerns, is one reason why the community is expected to strongly support Biden in the polls.
Trump, meanwhile, has pursued peace in the Middle East by offering a clearly defined plan for Palestinian statehood, which for the first time actually defines the proposed borders of a state, although it falls far short of what many Palestinians expect. The president has also encouraged the peace accords between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. He argues that these deals, which he hopes will increase from two to seven in the coming year, will create an environment in which statehood for the Palestinians is more achievable. The Palestinian leadership has rejected his peace plan and hopes for a changes of president after this election and the heavier involvement of European countries.
Unfortunately, Trump’s peace efforts have also not gone down well with Arab Americans and that will most likely be reflected in the upcoming vote. If Trump does still win a second term in office, he might thus be more likely to move forward without worrying about pursuing Palestinian statehood, leaving the fate of the Palestinians in the hands of the Arab world rather than Israel. This could be viewed as a huge risk, but one that many Arab American voters are apparently willing to take. How it will play out remains to be seen.