The Emerging Arab Vote in Congressional Districts

The exploding Middle Eastern-North African (MENA) Census Bureau racial population category (if implemented by the Trump administration and Congress) should mean an increase by 2022 of more than the two Muslim Democrats now serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. More than two thirds of Arab Americans live in just ten states: California, Michigan, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Metropolitan Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York are home to one-third of their population. So, their voting power goes far beyond its present low percentage of the national population.

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By Jay O’Callaghan and RJ Galliano l September 6, 2017

Arab Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the U.S.

The Arab American Institute (AAI) estimates that more than “3.7 million Americans trace their roots to an Arab country,” while the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimates that there are almost two million Americans who claim Arab ancestry. This group has “more than doubled since the Census first measured ethnic origins in 1980 and is among the fastest growing Arab diaspora populations in the world.” It has grown even faster in recent years at a rapidly rising rate of “more than 72% between 2000 and 2010.” The “nationwide Arab American population, adjusting for under-reporting,” is closer to the higher AAI 3.7 million number, which is slightly more than one per cent of the U.S. population. The U.S. Census Bureau’s proposed new Middle Eastern-North African (MENA) racial category should provide a major boost in the numbers claimed by Arab American lobbying groups and community organizers in the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census.

The rise of the Arab American vote in American politics is similar to Jewish Americans who now number 6.735 million (or more than two percent of the population) but unlike Arab Americans is no longer growing, according to the Berman Center. Like Jewish Americans, Arab Americans are strategically located in the states with the highest number of electoral votes and in upper middleclass metropolitan congressional districts. More than two thirds of Arab Americans live in just ten states: California, Michigan, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Metropolitan Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York are home to one-third of their population. So, their voting power goes far beyond its present low percentage of the national population.

Also, like Jewish Americans, Arab Americans have the profile of a higher turnout voter, which is usually well educated and upper middle class. According to the AAI, “contrary to popular assumptions or stereotypes, the majority of Arab Americans are native-born, and nearly 82% of Arabs in the U.S. are citizens. According to U.S. Census data compiled by AAI, nearly half (45%) of Arab Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 27% of all Americans. Almost one fifth (18%) of Arab Americans have a postgraduate degree, which is nearly twice the American average (10%). Median income for Arab American households in 2008 was $56,331 compared with $51,369 for all households in the United States. Mean individual income is 27% higher than that national average of $61,921.

But unlike Jewish Americans, who have never proposed using the Census Bureau to count their population, Arab American groups are strongly supporting a new Census Bureau racial category for the 2020 Census, which will cover anyone who has roots in Middle Eastern and North African MENA countries (and could count many other non-Muslim religious groups including Christians and Jews except Israelis). These groups are well aware that each Census decides how the government spends over $400 billion in federal and state grants much of it to groups like theirs that are involved in many public health, transportation, education, and community development projects.

Also, the Census is mandated by the Constitution to be used in apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, whereby electoral votes are largely determined in presidential elections. The Census is also used to redistrict state legislatures and school district assignment areas. This new category will permit a count of the expanded MENA category down to the block level, permitting the creation of Arab American majority access districts throughout the U.S. It will also ensure (under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act) the availability of foreign language ballots and translation services at polling places in areas with at least a significant minority population.

This past Spring the federal Interagency Working Group (IWG) for Research on Race and Ethnicity began to review recommendations from the Census Bureau, and solicit public comment on the MENA category. The IWG will send its findings to the Office of Management and Budget, which will, in turn, issue recommendations – including implementation dates & implementation guidance – in the Federal Register in the Winter of 2017. Final question formats for the 2020 Census will be submitted to Congress by March 31, 2018 for its approval.

Earlier this year, Nate Cohn of the New York Times, produced a list of the top 25 Arab American congressional districts ranging from 2-to-7.3 per cent of the population. This may at first seem to be insignificant, but these numbers could more than double by 2020 and will be even more inflated by the new MENA category should it be approved by Congress for the 2020 census.

It is not surprising that only five of the 25 districts are represented by Republicans. It is quite interesting that three of these districts (CA-48, Orange County: Dana Rohrabacher; TX-7, Houston and suburbs: John Culberson; and, VA-10, Northern VA suburbs: Barbara Comstock) are in once Republican affluent suburban districts that supported Hillary Clinton. These districts are being targeted by national Democrats in 2018, which means there will be a major effort to register and turnout the usually overwhelming Democrat Arab American vote by Arab American groups and the Democrat party.

Trump won only two of the 25 districts (NY-11, Staten Island: Dan Donovan; MI-11, Detroit suburbs: Dave Trott) both represented by recently elected Democrats in middle class suburban districts with high concentrations of other pro-Trump minorities such as Italians and other white Catholic groups. Trump also ran behind Romney’s 2012 support in 18 out of these 25 districts.

In seven of the 25 districts (CA-28, Burbank-Glendale: Adam Schiff; CA-30, Beverly Hills: Ted Lieu; CA-33, San Fernando Valley: Brad Sherman; CA-37, West LA-Culver City: Karen Bass; CA 52, Coastal San Diego Metro area: Scott Peters; MA-5, Boston suburbs: Katherine Clark; NY-3, North Shore Long Island: Tom Suozzi) there are substantial Jewish populations but also a growing Arab population. These mainly Democrat wealthy suburban districts are likely future battlegrounds between Arab and Jewish groups for control of the Democrat party.

Michigan may lose another congressional district after the 2020 Census, which may set up a fight among four Democrats over their district lines (MI-9, Detroit suburbs: Sandy Levin; MI-12, Ann Arbor-Dearborn: Debbie Dingell; MI-13, West Detroit: John Conyers; and, MI-14, East Detroit: Brenda Lawrence). Adding to the complications in redistricting is that most of these Metro-Detroit districts have divided substantial Arab areas like Dearborn and Hamtramck. An effort to create one district uniting all the Arab neighborhoods in Detroit and its suburbs should be expected, which could cause at least two of these Democrats to lose their seats in 2022.

MAP SOURCE: CNN

The biggest surprise in the top 25 Arab American congressional districts is that not one of the districts is now represented by an Arab American. MN-5, Minneapolis, is represented by the first of two African American Muslims in Congress, Keith Ellison and André Carson in IN-7, Indianapolis, both of whom have much support from Arab Americans. The exploding MENA population category (if implemented by the Trump administration and Congress) should mean more Arab American and Muslim Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives by 2022, the first year that redistricting takes effect as a result of the 2020 Census.

Moreover, of the 10 key states where two thirds of Arab Americans live, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton split evenly, each carried five with Clinton picking up California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia for a total of 131 electoral votes. Trump carrying Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas for 121 electoral votes. With 270 of 538 electoral votes required to win the White House, a sweep of just these 10 states, for example, where two thirds of Arab Americans live, would garner 252 electoral votes, only 18 short of the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the presidency. The rapidly increasing Arab and Muslim vote in these high electoral vote states (along with other racial minorities) will make it more difficult for Republicans to win in these key states in future presidential elections.

MENA’s impact on the 2020 Census and subsequent redistricting leading to the 2024 presidential election could be substantial given the billions of dollars in federal and state grants to such groups and where the Section 203 Voting Rights Act mandate could make foreign language ballots and translation services at polling places determinative of final polling results. The MENA category carried down to the block level will also provide Arab and Muslim community organizations with the key data they need to register and turnout this new identity group in elections, if Congress approves the Obama administration-engineered electoral process of identity politics.


Jay O’Callaghan has worked extensively with issues involving the U.S. Census Bureau including serving as a professional staff member for the House Government Reform Census Subcommittee, as a senior legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives Redistricting Committee and for two U.S. House members. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis, of the Conservative-Online-Journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research RJ Galliano is a director at SFPPR and editor of SFPPR News & Analysis.

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