The Arab American Institute (AAI) said this after a recent tracking poll it conducted.
In a head-to-head race between Kerry and President George Bush, 54% of Arab Americans polled in Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania said they would vote for Kerry verses 30% for Bush.
However, if the election was held today with Nader on the ballot in those four states, Kerry’s support among Arab Americans would drop to 43%, with Bush getting 27% and Nader 20%.
In the poll, taken from February 24-26 among 501 likely Arab American voters, roughly half of Nader’s votes came from former Kerry supporters, while one-third came from independent swing voters. Only one in six Nader votes came from Arab Americans who previously supported Bush.
“It’s very clear that Nader voters among Arab Americans come from John Kerry, for the most part,” said AAI President James Zogby.
The four states included in the poll have large delegate counts and will likely be crucial in determining the winner of the November election.
All were closely contested in 2000, with Bush winning Florida by just 537 votes. Arab Americans represent a likely voter turnout of roughly 510,000 voters in these states, constituting 5% of the vote in Michigan and 2% in Florida, according to AAI figures.
Issues of concern
While Arab Americans are a diverse political group who cast their votes based on a variety of issues, voters in this poll were mainly concerned about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the war against Iraq and the debate over civil liberties, said Zogby.
Nearly 70% said the Iraq war was “very important” in determining their vote and 64% felt the same way about the Middle East peace process.
Kerry says Israel's separation wall
is an 'act of self-defence'
“These issues are important to Arab American voters,” Zogby said.
In addition, 80% of those intending to vote for Nader said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have a big impact on their vote. Nader, who is of Lebanese origin, does not mention the issue on his campaign website.
But in a speech delivered at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s annual convention last year, he expressed support for a two-state solution and criticised Israel’s military tactics in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The current policy of the (Israeli occupation troops) in the occupied territories is a great hothouse for terror,” Nader said. “Nobody believes that more occupation, more killing, destroying, and humiliation will help to decimate it.”
Kerry supports what he calls “a viable Palestinian state,” though he has not been as critical of Israel’s policies as Nader has in the past.
In a speech delivered at the AAI’s National Leadership Conference last year, Kerry referred to Israel’s construction of a separation barrier as a “barrier to peace.” More recently, however, he reversed himself, calling the partition a legitimate act of self-defense.
Zogby said it was too early to predict whether voters might revert to the Democratic candidate if it became evident that a vote for Nader would be a vote to re-elect Bush. Some Arab Americans have urged Nader not to run for that very reason, he said.
“The concerns of the Arab American community exemplified in this poll are the exact same concerns of all Americans"
“There is an active debate actually going on with the community about the Ralph Nader candidacy,” Zogby said. “Many people in the community who supported him in 2000 are writing letters, open letters, saying ‘Ralph don’t do it.’”
Although Nader won 13.5% of the Arab American vote in the 2000 election, voters may bring a different mindset to this year’s race, said Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a Washington civil rights group.
“A lot of people who voted for Nader in the last election, including many Arab American voters, wanted to make statements about the need for third parties,” Ibish said. “I think this time more people are going to want to make a statement about who should be in the White House.”
Arab Americans discontent
Bush may have less to fear from Nader’s candidacy than Kerry does, but he will have other challenges to confront if he hopes to receive as much support from Arab Americans as he did in 2000, when he won almost 46% of their vote.
More than 70% of Arab Americans
were displeased with Bush policies
According to the four-state AAI poll, only 28% of Arab Americans would vote to re-elect Bush if the election was held today. The president’s job approval rating was 32%.
More than 70% of Arab American voters in the poll disapproved of Bush’s performance on several key issues, including the economy, health care and the war against Iraq.
The Bush campaign headquarters and the Republican National Committee did not return phone calls for comment.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC), of which Zogby is a member, issued a statement saying the poll underscored overall voter dissatisfaction with the Bush presidency.
“The concerns of the Arab American community exemplified in this poll are the exact same concerns of all Americans: concerns about finding a decent job, having access to affordable healthcare, improving public schools, protecting civil liberties at home and working for a more secure and peaceful world abroad,” DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe said.
“Mr Bush has had four years in the White House, and he has made no progress on these issues. It’s time for a change.”