This article is featured in the 2024 Winter Carnival special issue.
The 2024 election season is upon us, and as we anxiously await the first Tuesday in November, Joe Biden’s re-election bid remains uncertain. As of January 2024, the president’s approval rating was reportedly at an all-time low, and current polling shows a similar story. While most Americans continue to focus on inflation, crime, and immigration policy, the Israel-Gaza war may have an additional, underrated impact on voting patterns.
Identity-based voting has certainly become less predictable in recent years, with a record number of minority voters electing to vote Republican in 2020. However, when it comes to Arab American voters and Palestine, it seems that established identities are still alive and well. According to the Associated Press, several heavily Arab American counties in the pivotal swing state of Michigan voted for Biden by almost 70%. However, the unprecedented war in Gaza has had an immensely negative influence on perceptions of Biden among this critical voting group. According to the Arab American Institute of Voting, support for the Democratic Party among Arab Americans stands at a mere 17% compared to 60% in 2020.
I spoke to Amen Salha ’26, from Dearborn, Mich., a Detroit suburb with the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States, for more insight on this dramatic shift.
“As Arab Americans, we’re tired of having to compromise between safety abroad and America’s foreign policy,” he said. “Democrats think that in 2024, [Arab Americans] will forget [about Biden’s actions]. [Biden is] justifying active war crimes and actively contributing to them.”
Considering that Amen was involved in political organizing in support of Joe Biden in 2020, these words represent quite a pivot from the last election. He assures me that “I think most often it’s not best to be a one-issue voter … but with this specific issue, there is no doubt about it [that] this is enough [for him not to win Michigan].”
It is worth noting that Biden was not exactly celebrated by most Arab American voters even in 2020 — he was merely seen as the lesser of two evils. Yet, Amen said this year is “even worse than that” and could spur Arab Americans to “leave the top of the ticket empty or vote third party.”
Perhaps it was never a secret that the majority of Arab Americans, or at least far more than in 2020, might be conflicted about casting a vote for Biden in this election. Still, it is fair to question if this shift will have any major impact on the election considering that Arab Americans only make up a small portion of the population.
The numbers indicate that it might. Looking at the example of Michigan, we’ll find that over 300,000 Arab voters voted in the state in 2020, with the vast majority of them voting Democrat. If Arab voters abstained from voting, Trump would have comfortably won the swing state. It is not unrealistic to think about the probability of this happening this year. One county commissioner from Dearborn stated that “Arab Americans will not vote for Joe Biden, no matter what. That’s it. They’re done with Biden.” Abdullah Hammoud, the Arab American mayor of Dearborn, said he felt “betrayed” by the Biden administration. In the eyes of many Dearborn residents, Biden has not fulfilled his 2020 election promises of not only securing peace in the Middle East but also ensuring the safety of Arab Americans in the United States.
In a similar vein, my home state of Georgia could have had a far different outcome if Arab Americans had chosen not to vote. Even though Georgia is relatively diverse, ranking among the country's top 10 most diverse states, it doesn’t have the large Arab populations found in Michigan, Texas, or New York. Even though Arab Americans make up just a small percentage of the population, estimates tell us that around 57,000 Arab Americans live in Georgia. Yet, assuming that the majority of those who voted in 2020 voted for Biden, taking away Arab American votes is enough to erase Biden’s narrow victory in the state. Palestinian American Georgia Rep. Ruwa Romman, a Democrat, emphasized this possibility in late October by saying, “Every single person I’ve spoken to said if the election were tomorrow, I could not vote for Joe Biden.” These words came from “[Biden’s] fundraisers” and “the most politically active people in [her] Arab community.”
So far, Biden has been dismissive of this alienation. In 2020, Biden laid out a detailed plan entitled “Joe Biden and the Arab American Community: A Plan for Partnership,” which centered around empowering Arab Americans. When recently asked about potential concerns about the Arab American vote, rather than emphasizing these past promises, Biden could only mutter, “Well look, Trump wanted to put a ban on Arabs coming into the United States, so let’s make sure we understand who cares about Arab Americans.”
Such a statement illuminates the estranged relationship between Arab Americans and Biden’s administration. Firstly, Trump did not directly ban Arabs from coming to the United States. His travel ban was aimed at majority Muslim countries, and the majority of Arabs in the U.S. are Christian, not to mention that the vast majority of Muslims are not Arab.
Aymen Mohyeldin, an Egyptian reporter at NBC, felt that Biden’s remarks were not a suitable response.
“I have spoken to many Arab American AND Muslim American voters, and if you present to them the choice of two candidates, one who would ban their relatives, neighbors and friends from coming to the U.S., or the other who has shown what they believe to be an indifference to their killing and continues to support what many voters believe to be a genocide, the choice is obvious,” Mohyeldin wrote in an Instagram post. “Most are telling me, ‘I’d rather they be banned from coming to America than be killed’ by what they see as American weapons and complicity.”
While American politicians have often heralded Arab Americans’ participation in American democracy, citing its rarity in the Middle East, it’s becoming evident that mere participation in a democracy that fails to represent Arab Americans adequately is no cause for celebration. Many within this demographic actively express their disillusionment with Biden, whom they perceive as being complicit in the killing of Palestinians, and their words and actions are palpably stronger than ever. Regardless of one’s stance on these sentiments, their resonance is poised to reshape the landscape of the 2024 election.
Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.