Obama Strong but Wilting With Arab-Americans

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A new poll issued by the Arab American Institute (pdf here) yesterday and conducted by JZ Analytics reports that President Obama maintains a commanding lead over Governor Mitt Romney in the election but that Obama's edge has dropped by 15 percent since the 2008 election. 

Arab-Americans are defecting from both both the GOP and the Democratic Party and are increasingly identifying as Independents (24 percent, according to James Zogby. That said Arab-American Dems stand at 46 percent of their population as compared to 22 percent who are GOPers.

In terms of what Arab-Americans thought was "very important" in guiding their presidential vote, the economy ranked far ahead of other issues. In rank order, health care came next; followed by civil liberties, taxes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and U.S. outreach to the Muslim world.

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In every category, Obama beat Romney in Arab-American voter perceptions of being able to deal with key issues of the day. Obama's double digit gap was least in assessment of their respective ability to manage the economy. Surprisingly, Obama's lead on economic capability was exactly the same as the Obama-Romney gap on managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The last graph of the brief showed that 'concerns about discrimination' had grown among all Arab-Americans from 2010 to 2012, regardless of faith. Muslim Arab-Americans had very high levels of concern about discrimination; 71 percent today as compared to 64 percent in 2010. Thirty-seven percent of Protestant Arab-American worry about discrimination with 29 percent of Catholics concerned.

There are reportedly 3.9 million self-identifying Arab-Americans in the United States, and an expected 1.1 million Arab-American voters in Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. The poll shows an expected advantage for Obama of 52 percent to 28 percent in these swing states.

Nonetheless, Obama's lead is less than that which he achieved in 2008, down to 52 percent from 67 percent.

It's interesting to consider whether Obama's powerful advantage with ethnic Americans has wilted 'enough' to give Romney an opportunity. 

As National Journal's Ron Brownstein has written and has explained frequently on CNN, the new mathematics of this election can be framed as "80/40". He argues that in the last election Obama won the presidency by winning 80 percent of all non-white voters in the country -- and won roughly 40 percent of white voters. 

Thus, the numbers to watch regarding Romney's challenge is whether he can take a chunk of either Obama's non-white voter base or shove Obama's white voter base to a level below 40 percent  Right now, polls show Obama roughly at the 80/40 level -- but Brownstein says it's still close.

Thus, while Obama may be clobbering Romney in absolute terms with Arab-American voters and virtually every other ethnic group, the relative gap with at least Arab-Americans has diminished.

That should worry the Obama ranks -- and represents a strange kind opportunity for Team Romney in which Obama wins with many of these groups, like Arab-Americans, but doesn't win by enough margins to win overall.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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