Bernie Sanders’s dramatic upset in Michigan comes on the heels of a well-coordinated effort by his campaign to attract Arab voters, many of whom live in key primary and general election states like Michigan. The results from Dearborn, which has one of the largest Arab communities in the nation, were particularly interesting.
In a city whose population is nearly 50 percent Arab, primary results showed 59 percent of Dearborn residents voting for Sanders and only 39 percent voting for Clinton.
A national poll conducted in February by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) showed that 52 percent of Muslims supported Clinton while only 22 percent supported Sanders.
But Sanders invested a great deal of time and attention on Michigan, and particularly on making Muslim voters feel that they had a voice in the political process. “No other candidate spent the amount of attention to the community, nor did anyone send any of their surrogates here,” said Daoud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR Michigan. “The other point is that Mr. Sanders, he spent time in the community here, from his campaign meeting with people in the grassroots to Mr. Sanders having radio ads in Arabic on local radio programs that are played here on ethnic stations.”
An endorsement by Dearborn-based Arab American News also helped elevate Sanders’s prominence among the city’s Democratic voters, he said.
Ahmed Bedier, head of United Voices, a political mobilization group for minorities, was ecstatic about the win. On his Twitter page, he posted a photo of him embracing Bernie Sanders after news of his victory in Michigan.
— Ahmed Bedier (@bedier) March 9, 2016
“What the polls indicated was Bernie Sanders seemed more believable to the majority of Michigan Democrats and that had a lot to play in how they voted,” said Rabiah Ahmad, the communications director at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, to The National Memo. “He’s definitely been more vocal against anti-Muslim bigotry.”
Arab and Muslims are not single issue voters. While Islamophobia has reached new extremes in this election — there’s a bigot at the front of the Republican Party — there were more important issues for Dearborn’s voters. Dearborn is part of the Rust Belt, a region that has seen the steady decline of its industrial and manufacturing output. Its Muslim and Arab inhabitants have felt the same effects of outsourcing jobs overseas and factory closures that every other demographic has felt.
In mid-February, Sanders visited a United Auto Workers local, where the Detroit Free Press noted the presence of Arabs at the meeting. “Many Muslim women who attended wore hijab, the Islamic headscarf, and one prayed in the corner before the rally started,” the story read. “The union hall is located in the south end of Dearborn, a neighborhood that is about 90% Arab-American Muslim.”
While the Michigan primary results were a shock, the winning candidate in Dearborn was not. To American Muslims, it did not matter that Sanders was Jewish, despite the orthodoxy of political pundits.
Twitter @Tasbeeh reacted with some sarcasm:
you mean to tell me arab-american voters are not impelled to vote based on the fiction of a thousands-year old conflict between arabs & jews — Tasbeeh (@THerwees) March 9, 2016
Jews for Bernie also tweeted a similar message:
First serious Jewish Presidential contender wins the Muslim vote in Henry Ford’s stomping grounds. https://t.co/QjswwBK4UL
— Jews for Bernie (@jewsforbernie) March 9, 2016
While Arabs and Muslims were a solidly Republican demographic as recently as 2000, they’ve since shifted parties following the GOP’s slide into Islamophobia. With Muslims concentrated in key swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Florida, Sanders’s Michigan win could be the first step in a long process of political engagement.
Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders listens as Abdelmajid Jondy speaks during a community forum about contaminated water in Flint, Michigan February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder