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HomeUSAmerican Muslims supported Biden in 2020. Will they leave him?

American Muslims supported Biden in 2020. Will they leave him?

  • Arab, Muslim voters abandon Biden
  • Demand Gaza ceasefire, end funding
  • Could sway key swing states

As predicted by polls and analysts, Joe Biden defeated then-incumbent President Donald Trump in Michigan by a much narrower margin in 2020: just over 150,000 ballots.

Muslim Americans and Arab Americans, two voter groups that partially overlapped, aided Biden in Michigan and other crucial swing states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, by the margin of a few percentage points.

Presently, forty-eight months later, as Biden and Trump prepare for their rematch in November, the incumbent of the Democratic Party is confronted with the increasing likelihood of opposition from those very same voters—a significant number of whom are attempting to undermine his re-election campaign.

The increasing indignation surrounding Washington’s endorsement of Israel’s unprecedented bombardment of Gaza has prompted a significant number of Arab-American and Muslim electors to declare their intention of abstaining from voting. Since 7 October, the US has continued to provide military funding to Tel Aviv, resulting in nearly 30,000 Palestinian casualties in the Gaza conflict, the majority of whom are minors.

In Michigan, where early primaries commence this week, former Biden supporters have vowed to sabotage the elections in order to convey a resolute message to his administration, while the president’s advisers have hurried to reconcile with community leaders.

The following describes the desires of American Arab and Muslim communities, the significance of the two voting blocs to Biden, and the regions of the United States where they wield the most sway:

What are the demands of Arab Americans?

Arab and Muslim communities claim to have implored the Biden administration to intervene and put an end to the ceasefire in Gaza, but to no avail. Certain individuals are Palestinians who have acquaintances and family in the besieged strip.

These communities have a wide range of requirements, with the primary ones being:
  • The United States advocates for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza and works to ensure the release of Israeli and Palestinian political prisoners.
  • Washington discontinues funding for Israel’s military.
  • The United States urges Palestine to receive adequate aid and reinstates humanitarian financing that had been suspended to UNRWA, the UN agency under investigation on charges that its employees participated in the 7 October attacks in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and which were orchestrated by Hamas.
  • The United States government should increase its efforts to combat the growing anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiments.
  • Many, however, assert that Washington is not considering their opinions and that its position is especially hurtful in light of their previous support for Biden. These groups have encouraged local council leaders in Dearborn, Detroit, and other major towns with large Arab-American populations to pass unilateral Gaza cease-fire resolutions.

Mai El-Sadany, director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) in Washington, D.C., told Al Jazeera that local resolutions are symbolic and serve as indicators of American citizens’ concerns and priorities, despite the fact that they have no bearing on U.S. foreign policy.

El-Sadany stated, “These spaces provide a forum for citizens to explain why this issue is significant and how it affects them and their families.”

“[Local councils] possess the capacity to serve as platforms for mobilising individuals who share similar views, thereby fostering a greater sense of urgency and exerting pressure on policymakers with actual influence over foreign policy to reassess their approach.”

What ‘uncommitted’ alternative do some electors prefer?

Certain Arab-American voters are opting to abstain from participating in state primaries and, should Biden not issue a call for a cessation of hostilities, the November election. In October, community leaders in Minnesota initiated the #AbandonBiden movement.

Others write “Free Palestine” on their unmarked ballot papers, according to their statements.

Others, especially in Michigan, intend to participate in the Democratic primaries by selecting the “uncommitted” option on ballots, as opposed to voting for Biden.

This option denotes the party support of electors who have no personal affiliation with any of the candidates on the list. Biden will disregard a vote without commitment. Moreover, since the Democratic Party ballot does not list Trump, it will not count his vote. Although the general election ballots in November will not include an uncommitted option, Biden’s vote total may be impacted by erstwhile Democratic Party supporters who do not appear or whose ballot papers are not properly marked.

Michigan Voters Challenge Biden’s Stance

Listen to Michigan, an organisation that has coordinated call-a-thons to rally thousands of “uncommitted” Michigan voters, stated that the purpose was “to put President Biden on notice” following the failure of protests to alter the White House’s position on Gaza.

Zeidan, a Palestinian Christian who vows not to vote for Biden in November, stated, “You cannot weaponize the entire notion that the opposition is the superior party simply because you are not Republican, especially when you are aiding a genocide and even more so when you are stealing our taxes that could be reinvested in the communities that are suffering and you claim to care about.” The organisation is striving to secure the support of a minimum of 10,000 uncommitted voters in the primaries, which is equivalent to the number of ballots that contributed to Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in Michigan in 2016.

“At a minimum, that is the margin of votes by which we can demonstrate our ability to sway Michigan in any direction,” she stated.

Approximately thirty elected state leaders from Michigan, including Rashida Tlaib, the sole Palestinian American in the US Congress, have joined the movement.

In an opinion piece for The New York Times, the mayor of Dearborn confirmed that he would vote “uncommitted” in the primaries, stating that he would be placing “hope that Mr. Biden will listen.”

Which states are strongholds for Arab-American voters?

The Arab American Institute estimates that there are roughly 3.5 million Arab Americans, constituting about one percent of the total population of the United States. A minority adheres to Judaism, while approximately thirty percent are Muslim and approximately sixty-five percent are Christians.

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Although these factions often make decisions influenced by different concerns, “there is virtually unanimous agreement on the necessity of a Gaza ceasefire,” according to Youssef Chouhoud, a race and religion scholar affiliated with Christopher Newport University in Virginia.

The greatest Arab-American population in the United States resides in Dearborn, Michigan, comprising over forty percent of the city’s total populace. Virginia, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Florida are also densely populated Arab states.

In November, at least three of those states—Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—will be battleground swing states, where the support gap between the Democrats and Republicans is narrow and where even minor fluctuations could determine the outcome.

Arab ballots determined the outcome of the close 2020 election. Michigan voters favoured Biden over Trump by 154,000 ballots, with the Arab-American community contributing primarily to that result, which accounted for 5% of the vote. There are approximately 240,000 Arab Americans residing in Michigan.

Biden won by a margin of less than 12,000 ballots in Georgia. The province accommodates over 57,000 Arab Americans as residents.

However, as a result of escalating discontent in those communities, many Arab electors, whether Muslim or Christian, no longer support the Democratic Party for the first time in twenty-six years. The percentage of American Arabs who viewed Biden favourably decreased from 59% in 2020 to 17% in 2023.

What is the voting behaviour of non-Arab Muslims?

Approximately 3.5 million of the approximately 4.5 million Muslims in

the United States are of non-Arab descent. Although they share the same faith, their concerns and priorities differ from those of Arab Americans. The majority are of South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi) and African (Somali and Nigerian) heritage.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) conducted a poll in October, revealing that only 50% of Muslim voters intended to support Biden in the upcoming election, a significant decrease from the 78% who voted for him in 2020. The survey showed 34% undecided and 11% planning to vote for Trump.

Nihad Awad, CAIR’s national executive director, stated, “American Muslims are profoundly disillusioned by President Biden’s failure to uphold his commitments to human rights, particularly his administration’s support for Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians.”

He continued, “Our community’s support for President Biden has considerably diminished as a direct consequence of his administration’s foreign policy decisions.”

The Arab American Institute emphasises that Arab and Muslim voters are not a monolithic entity. Various factors beyond foreign policy, including healthcare, the economy, and education, influence their electoral decisions.

Chouhoud concurred, noting that the upcoming election will not solely revolve around foreign policy. He stated, “The most pressing issues for Muslim voters, similar to those for the general population, are inflation and the economy.”

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