The Arab-American Vote in the Presidential Election As Seen From 5th Avenue

New Jersey residents Amina Soliman, 22, and Mai Admed, 25 visit Bay Ridge’s 5th Avenue shop. (Photo: Helga Salinas)
New Jersey residents Amina Soliman, 22, and Mai Admed, 25 visit Bay Ridge’s 5th Avenue shops. (Photo: Helga Salinas)

Originally published on on October 5, 2012.

BROOKLYN, NY—Halal meat, hijabs, and hair salons bring New Jersey residents Amina Soliman, 22, and Mai Admed, 25, to Bay Ridge, which has “that Arab vibe,” which is “better than taking a trip to the Middle East,” said Admed.

Soliman said that she likes coming here because different communities are close to each other. It is a welcoming atmosphere, especially since 40% of Arab Americans have experienced discrimination and are concerned about it, according to a report released by the Arab American Institute on the Arab American Vote.

In Bay Ridge, by contrast, “everyone has their guard down,” Soliman said.

The Arab community constitutes about 13 percent of Bay Ridge’s population, according to the American Community Survey’s 5-year average of the US Census from 2005 to 2010.

Nationally, the community has grown as well. New York is the third most populous Arab-American state after California and Michigan, with approximately 150,000 residents, most of them in Kings County, according to the Arab American Institute.

Will the Arab-American vote swing to Obama?

The report noted that 46% of Arab Americans identify as Democratic, 24% as Independent, and 22% as Republican.

But identification with either party has decreased since 2008, while identification as independent increased from 17 to 24%.

Soliman, a recent university graduate, intends to vote for Obama because he’s “better than Mitt Romney.”

Admed, an attorney, isn’t sure she’ll vote at all. Her preferred candidate is Republican Rep. Ron Paul.

“I think he is what America used to be…only one to bring us back up,” said Admed. She especially agrees with his stance on foreign policy, which is pulling out and “let every country figure out their ways.”

Nationally, Arab Americans remain divided on President Obama’s performance, with 51% rating him as excellent or good, and 48% responding fair or poor.

If the election were held told today, 52% of Arab-Americans would vote Obama and 28% for Romney, the Arab American Institute reported.

Soliman and Admed believe that Obama has a significant chance to be reelected because he is open to minorities and their concerns, which includes education.

“Minorities are screwed if Mitt Romney wins,” said Soliman.

Is Immigration the most important issue in this immigrant community?

Both Soliman’s and Admed’s parents, who immigrated from Egypt, plan to vote for Obama.

Though they believe the issue of immigration is important for any minority group, the economy is their primary concern in this presidential election. “I still don’t have a job” said Soliman.

Admed, currently working in Brooklyn, said finding work took extraordinary effort, “I would stand outside the courthouse to give my resumes [to attorneys],”  she said.

To the question of which are the top two issues facing the United States, immigration was only cited by 3%. The reported cited jobs and the economy as the top issue facing the United States by 82% of Arab-Americans, with foreign policy following at 27%.

“I don’t think it’s a race because of the economic situation,” said Soliman. When asked which issue is important in their vote for President, 89% responded that it is the economy.

Yet, to the question if the election were held today, 21% responded that they would vote for someone else rather than Obama and Romney, or were unsure.

So what’s the one thing that would shift an Arab-American vote?

An end to racial profiling. That is what “tainted how people feel about our community,” said Admed, especially today where there are “so many more ways to express racial profiling.”

The report cited that 61% of respondents would identify themselves as Arab American. Of that number, 15% would also identify with their country of origin. (The term Arab-American is designated to include people with origins or ancestry from the countries of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.) Also, 82% responded as being proud of their heritage.

Admed says that she understands that different immigrant groups have cycled through different waves of discrimination in the United States.“Every group has its time. Now it’s Arab,” but, “Stop racial profiling. Stop calling us terrorists. This is where we live.”