The decline in popularity was revealed through a new tracking poll released by the Arab American Institute (AAI).
In the poll, the third in a series of six between now and November, just over 24% of Arab American voters in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania said they planned to vote for Bush in a two-way race with John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
In a three-way race including independent candidate Ralph Nader, 51% of those surveyed said they would vote for Kerry, 24% for Bush and 13% for Nader.
Bush won nearly 46% of the Arab American vote in 2000, versus 38% for the Democratic candidate, Al Gore.
AAI President James Zogby said the decline in support for Bush marked a shift of 225,000 Arab American voters who supported Bush in the last election, but now lean towards the Democrats.
“A lot feel alienated
Laila Al-Qatami, communications director American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
“The president’s slippage is significant, even dramatic,” Zogby said.
The administration’s policies on civil liberties, the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have created a growing sense of frustration in the Arab American and Muslim American communities. Such political discontent could spell trouble for Bush in a close election, some experts say.
While Arab Americans comprise a relatively small percentage of the voting population, they represent a likely voter turnout of more than 510,000 voters in the four states tracked in the AAI poll, all of which are expected to be hotly contested this year.
There are roughly 235,000 Arab American voters in Michigan alone, something Zogby said would likely give their community a greater voice than in years past.
“If the states are close, and they probably will be, that’s a community that’s worth paying attention to,” he said. “That’s a community that has numbers.”
Just nine per cent of Arab Americans surveyed in the poll gave Bush a favourable job-approval rating, well below his numbers in most national surveys.
Arab Americans are unhappy
Many Arab-American civic leaders attributed such widespread discontent to a perceived loss of civil liberties under the Patriot Act, the war in Iraq and the administration’s decidedly pro-Israel stance in the Middle East peace process.
“A lot feel alienated by President Bush’s programmes and initiatives,” said Laila Al-Qatami, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
A solid majority of Arab Americans in the AAI poll gave Bush low marks for his handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, civil liberties issues and overall foreign policy.
Most respondents also gave Bush a poor rating on health care and the economy, and Zogby was quick to point out that Arab Americans have never been single-issue voters.
While Arab Americans are growing increasingly dissatisfied with Bush, they are not enamored of Kerry either, according to the AAI poll. Only 8.5% said they planned to vote for Kerry because they liked “him as a man,” while 52% said defeating the Republicans was their primary concern.
“They are upset with George Bush, but they don’t love John Kerry,” Zogby said.
Community leaders are split over the question of whether either candidate has made significant efforts to address the concerns of Arab American voters.
Kerry a disappointment
“The Kerry people have been making a broad outreach,” Zogby said, adding both candidates could do better.
Others said attempts to court Arab Americans had been minimal at best.
“They are upset with George Bush, but they don’t love John Kerry,”
“There has been no outreach effort on behalf of the two candidates, not in the fashion of the 2000 election,” said Usama Siblani, president of the Arab-American Political Action Committee in Dearborn, Michigan.
Siblani said the Kerry team was taking the Arab American vote “for granted,” even though he voted for the Patriot Act and had disappointed many in the community with his unbridled support for Israeli policy in the Middle East.
“Perhaps people are telling [Kerry] that the Arab-American community is so angry at Bush that they will vote for him,” he said.
Yet, some Arab Americans could choose not to vote or to support a third-party candidate such as Nader if they feel Kerry is unresponsive to their concerns, he said.
Either way, a growing number of people say Arab Americans will have a greater voice in the election than in years past.
“I definitely think that the community thinks that it can be very influential in battleground states,” al-Qatami said.