Lackluster Arab American Turnout in Michigan

Courtesy New America Media, Mohamad Ozeir & Michelle Salamey

Editor’s note: The democratic primary in Michigan was uneventful among Arab Americans, according to NAM reporters Mohamad Ozeir and Michelle Salamey. Ozeir and Salamey interviewed many Arab American voters under 30 in Dearborn, Mich.

Dearborn, Mich. — Though it is tempting to explain the low turn out in Michigan’s primary based on snow and falling temperatures, the weather was not a factor. Many Michigan voters who should have ventured out to cast their ballots didn’t show up. It was true for the general population, but even more evident among Arab American youth, many of whom felt their vote wouldn’t matter.

What should have been an exciting primary on both sides of the political spectrum turned out to be particularly uneventful on the Democratic side. The conflict within the Democratic Party over the early primary kept a lot of potential voters away from the voting booth and gave the cynical crowd of young voters a valid reason to claim that their vote wouldn’t matter. In the Arab American community, which leans clearly toward the Democratic Party, the result was obvious everywhere you looked in the voting stations.

In the city of Dearborn, home to the largest Arab American population in North America, it’s just another day. The warning signs asking volunteers not to campaign or distribute literature at the entrance to the voting centers are the only indication that voting was underway. No campaign volunteers are waiting for potential voters, and no bilingual pamphlets or signs are displayed. To some extent, there are no voters. Election officials and volunteers have a lot of time on their hands to talk to each other, as they wait for people to show up and vote.

At Salina Middle School, a voting center for an exclusively Arab American district, observers wait for 15 minutes before seeing a voter walk in to cast a ballot. Ali Sayed, an election volunteer, describes the primary as the slowest event he has seen to date. Only 17 people cast their vote by noon, two of whom were in their twenties. Linda Baran, a volunteer at the Oakman Elementary School voting center reports the same slow turn out, adding that no young voters showed up until mid-afternoon.

Despite the efforts and mailings of the Arab American Institute (AAI), the Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC) and the Yemeni American Political Action Committee (YPAC), the Arab American turnout was the lowest seen in recent years. Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News and president of AAPAC, blamed the low turn out on the Democratic conflict. “Arab Americans, tired of the Bush administration and frustrated with Republican candidates, are leaning more toward the Democratic Party.” But, he says, “the confusion on the Democratic side kept them away.”

Valerie Smith, community relations officer at AAI, makes similar observations, but both hope that they’ll see a very different response in the general election. Suhaila Amen, a community activist, is more pessimistic. “Looks like our leadership and organizations are, like the rest of the community, more concerned with overseas politics,” she says. “This is not in the best interest of our community. We should have paid more attention to this election because a lot of the issues that we care about are at play.”

A quick survey of about 30 young Arab Americans supports Amen’s assertions. Obviously, the economy is a big issue. Amer Awada, a 20-year-old Obama supporter, says he voted because he’s looking for someone to fix the economy. Abraham Beydoun, 24, names the economy as the number one issue and voted for Hilary Clinton, stating, “She’s the best for the job.” Ending the war in Iraq and fixing U.S. foreign policy is another important issue for voters. Samraa Luqman, 25, says, “Fix the foreign policy and you’ll fix the other problems.” The same sentiment is echoed by Danial Makled, 26, Mohammed Salamey, 25, and Maali Luqman, 23, all of whom expressed support for Obama.

Mustapha Safiddine,19, and Fatima Bazzi, 21, cite healthcare as their main reason for putting their support behind Clinton. However, the gender issue alone is a key factor for many young voters. Clinton supporters Mustapha Hunter, 27, Ali Berry, 23, and Zeinab Bazzi, 30, all state they want to see a female president.

Many Obama supporters, such as Shema Aman, 20, Widad Luqman, 25, and Nahad Hammad, 22, cite the ethnicity factor as central to their choice of candidate. Ali Bazzi, 21, says he’s voting for Obama because he believes the senator will better understand ethnic issues and will treat Arab Americans fairly. Other issues young voters bring up include racial discrimination and the environment. John Edwards, John McCain and Fred Thompson are also mentioned by Arab American voters as candidates whose platforms reflect their values.


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