The Irrelevance of Arab-Americans in the US Presidential Election
By: Thabit Al-Arabi
Published Monday, November 5, 2012
When it comes to the US presidential election, the Arab-American community is completely irrelevant. Yet every four years a small clique of Washington-based, self-appointed representatives of Arab-Americans try to convince people otherwise. They overstate the potential impact of an Arab-American electorate on the results of the US presidential election, hoping to sell this unlikely story to Arabs in the homeland.
The claims these individuals make range from simple exaggerations about the potential of Arab-American voters to influence election results to outlandish assertions that Arab-Americans are the one ethnic group within the US that can determine the outcome of the presidential election.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a civil rights organization that describes itself as the largest grassroots Arab-American organization in the US, holds meetings prior to each presidential election urging Arab-American participation in the electoral process. The ADC employs common American clichés like, “Every vote counts,” or, “Make your voice heard.” Each election cycle the ADC declares the Arab-American community has finally reached the stage where it can play a role in determining who will be the next US president.
James Zogby, a regular fixture of the Arab-American scene for decades, helped establish the ADC before opening his own one-man shop, the Arab American Institute (AAI), which he describes as a “national leadership organization.” Each election cycle, the omnipresent Zogby gives us a strikingly similar pep talk about Arab-American political empowerment and a community “coming of age” under his guidance and leadership.
Both the ADC and AAI have no significant support base within the Arab-American community, and maintain much closer relations with the embassies of Arab Gulf states, which provide them with generous support.
Such grandiose claims are more about this elite subset of organizations seeking acceptance within mainstream American politics than providing any objective assessment of the electoral influence of Arab-Americans. Considering this agenda, it becomes impossible for these organizations to challenge any of the basic assumptions of the American political system. These career driven individuals operate within an American political system that leaves no room for any deviation from the strictly defined parameters of acceptable political discourse. What we are left with is a small group of “activists” driven by personal interests.
American presidential elections are quite a spectacle, but American democracy is a fiction. Even before a corporation was granted personhood and huge corporate campaign contributions became protected speech, the corporate elite had gained effective control of the economic and political institutions. Americans were left with a democratic façade. US presidential elections functioned more as a public ritual designed to perpetuate the illusion of democracy.
Despite this corporate domination of all economic and political life in the US, every four years we find a few Arab-Americans eager to participate in the carefully choreographed election charade.
Let’s assume that the US presidential elections are indeed meaningful and the victory of one candidate over the other will lead to implementing different policies. Let’s further assume that Arab-Americans represent a collective political unit that has coalesced around a set of common concerns. What potential impact can an Arab-American electorate have on the election? To answer this question we need to quickly review Arab-American demographics.
According to the US Census Bureau there are at least 1.9 million Americans of Arab descent out of a population of nearly 313 million people. They live in all 50 states but heavily concentrated in New York, Michigan, and California with smaller clusters in Florida, Texas, and Ohio. One million of the 1.9 million Americans of Arab descent are third and fourth generation descendants of earlier waves of Arab immigration to the US beginning in the late 19th century. Although included in the 1.9 million, many of these people do not identify as Arab-American. Their ethnic heritage, if they’re aware of it, doesn’t play any role in their political socialization or consciousness.
According to the official immigration data, about 900,000 Arab-Americans arrived in the US as immigrants over the last two decades. This group does indeed maintain its Arab identity and, despite its diversity of opinions, shares a common set of concerns, such as growing Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism within the US, as well as a barbaric US foreign policy towards the Middle East. Of this group of less than one million living in a country of almost 313 million people, many are ineligible to vote due to age or immigration status. With such a tiny percentage of the population dispersed across different states, one simply has to overlay this Arab-American demographic map atop the US Electoral College map to understand the insignificance of the Arab-American electorate.
In this year’s US presidential election, for example, New York, Texas, and California, three states with a relatively high concentration of Arab-Americans, will play no role in determining the outcome of the election.
Of the few swing states, Michigan is one in which there is a relatively large Arab-American presence. However, in order for this community to have even a minor impact in Michigan, it must be mobilized around a common set of issues. This has not happened.
To say that Arab-Americans are irrelevant in the US presidential election is not to say the irrelevance of Arab-Americans to the election results is necessarily a bad thing or that the election results themselves are relevant.
The remarkable consistency of the American regime’s domestic and foreign policy makes clear it isn’t. For Americans, real change on the domestic level will not come from within the electoral process. A change of US foreign policy towards the Arab world can only be forced by revolutionary change from within the Arab world itself. In the meantime the results of the US presidential election, much like Arab-American voters, will remain irrelevant.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect al-Akhbar's editorial policy.