Azmi Haroun | November 4, 2020
Initial reports point to Arab American and Black voters as crucial to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s win in the battleground state of Michigan.
Early polling and initial exit polling from the Arab American Institute and the Council on American-Islamic Relations suggest that Arab American and Muslim voters voted in higher numbers this year than in 2016, and overwhelmingly for Biden. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Michigan had broken its record for turnout in a presidential election.
Late results on Wednesday from several counties in Michigan ended up throwing the race in Biden’s favor. Wayne and Oakland counties, which have high percentages of Black, Latino, Asian, and Arab residents, proved crucial in the final counts.
Wayne County is home to Detroit and Dearborn, where the Arab American Institute estimates that more than 200,000 Arab Americans live. According to the Muslim advocacy group Emgage, in 2020, more than 81,000 Muslims came out to vote in early and absentee voting alone in Michigan.
Early voting lines appear to mirror the full results in Wayne County with Biden winning about 70% of the eligible Arab American vote.
Not all members of the Arab American communities are Muslim, and not all Arab American communities voted as a monolith both in and outside Michigan. During the 2020 election, political commentators nationally are facing a reckoning about the monolithic grouping of demographics across the country, as early data shows a diversity of voters, experiences, and of political opinion in Latino communities as well as other loosely clumped together communities.
President Donald Trump also won Macomb County in Michigan with 54% of the vote, earning continued support from the Iraqi Chaldean community, who supported him in 2016.
“Arab American voters as a whole had higher turnout than 2016. In Wayne County, no category of voters increased more than 18-24 year old, non-white, first-time voters.” said Abed Ayoub, the legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Ayoub added that much of the excitement for young Arab American voters was potential rollover from engagement with the Bernie Sanders campaign during the Democratic primary.
“For Arab American and Black communities in the Midwest, the economy has not been favorable — and the conception that most Arabs are rich is not true,” Ayoub said.
The increased turnout also trickles down from nationwide organizing for Arab Americans to have a Racial and Ethnic Identifier category added to the Census. The lack of census representation creates an invisibility around demographics, health, and economic data, as well as political power for Arab American communities.
But that didn’t stop a large organizing drive, which has made an impact in Michigan during the 2020 US election.
“I think there is maturity in the way Arab Americans look at politics — there are still issues we need to see Democrats move on,” Ayoub said. “If Biden holds, we could have an administration that sees us part of the country and has released the first Arab American agenda. But we have to see how it translates to action.”
He added that Trump’s immigration policies, such as his early push to restrict travel from several majority-Muslim countries, had also mobilized Arab Americans in Michigan to vote against the president. However, elements of Trump’s Arab conservative base, Ayoub acknowledged, may have been galvanized by his strongman cult of personality and ultimately may not be lifelong GOP voters.
Additionally, in Michigan, Black voters in major cities like Detroit contributed substantially to Biden’s win.
According to progressive data analytics firm Catalist US, in 2016, Black voters cast 94,000 early votes but in 2020 they cast 389,000 early votes, in Michigan.
Data from the Tufts Center For Learning on Civic Learning and Engagement also showed that in Michigan, youth of color made up 15% of Michigan’s vote and supported Biden by 29 percentage points.
Several key battleground states are still in play, such as Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona. A win in multiple of these states could propel Biden to victory, and nonwhite voters have turned out in high numbers in all three states.