Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Electoral Arabesque (sic)

Much has been made of the story how then-Gov. George W. Bush captured the bulk of votes cast by Arab Americans in 2000, who were reported to have turned out in record numbers, and how the Bush admin.'s post-9/11 policies drove those same voters to away to the welcoming arms of the Democrats four years later in even more dramatic numbers. Anecdotal evidence abounded, but many observers remained skeptical, noting that though fast-growing, the slice of the American electorate comprised of Arab Americans remained a mere sliver, posing a challenge for any researcher to draw a representative sample.

And, like Asian American voters in much of the U.S., there are few places where Arab Americans have congregated and registered to vote in numbers large enough to be reflected in county, or even precinct, level returns.

In investigating Detroit area returns, I stumbled upon what may be rare confirmation of this story reflected in election returns. In the 1930's, Henry Ford published the Dearborn Independent in the white, working class Detroit suburb, home to many of his employees, as a platform for his anti-Semitic proselytizing. Today, Dearborn, Michigan is recognized as a mecca (no pun intended) for Arab American culture, home to generations-old Christian Arab Americans and more recent Muslim immigrants.

Assuming that in the four year interregnum that the Dearborn City Clerk did not unilaterally renumber the city's precincts, note the stunning plummet in the Bush vote in selected Dearborn precincts here. Other precincts posted less dramatic change, but the overall effect was enough to turn a turn a 52%-44% (with 3.6% for Nader, Dearborn-wide) Bush win in 2000 into a 40%-59% loss four years later.

These precincts posted much higher percentages for Nader than the less volatile precincts, suggesting that these precincts may indeed be heavily Arab American. Nader, remember, is of Lebanese descent and was reported to have gained significant support among his fellow Arab Americans.

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