Dearborn residents explain voting choice
By Ali Harb | Thursday, 03.10.2016, 08:00 PM

Arab Americans voting at Woodworth Middle School

DEARBORN — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders won big in east Dearborn neighborhoods in the Democratic primary, indicating that Arab Americans favored the democratic socialist senator from Vermont over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Dearborn voter Jawaher Almuraisi said she chose Clinton because she thinks the former secretary of state is the right candidate to beat likely Republican nominee Donald Trump. 

"My daughter tells me to vote for Bernie," she said. "But I am voting for Hillary. We want to elect a woman for the first time."

The story of Almuraisi and her daughter is telling of the political generational divide that manifested itself in the community this election.

Sanders beat Clinton 210 to 101 at the polls at the Southend's Salina Elementary.

At McDonald Elementary, near Wyoming and Warren, Sanders received 278 votes, compared to 132 for Clinton. At St. Alphonsus (Warren and Schaefer), the count was 243 - 95 in favor of Sanders.

Arab Americans voted 2 to 1 for Sanders in almost every east Dearborn precinct.

At Becker elementary (Miller and Warren), Sanders received more than twice the votes Clinton did.

The senator won 59 percent of the votes in Dearborn, overall.

Sanders courted the Arab vote and met with community leaders a day before the elections and held two rallies in Dearborn.

Less than 25 percent of east Dearborn ballots were Republican, but fear of a Donald Trump presidency affected the decision of many Democratic voters. The Trump factor might have pushed some people to vote for Clinton because she appears more electable than Sanders.

"I really like Bernie," Hala Hammid, an Egyptian American voting at Maples Elementary, said. "But I'm going for Hillary. I want the Democrats to beat Trump."

Khaled Ahmed, 38, also voted for Clinton because he believes she can defeat Trump.

"She's good," he said. "The economy was doing great when her husband was president."

But the youths were more charmed with Sanders' "political revolution."

Hadi Srour, 20, who was voting in the presidential elections for the first time, said he prefers Sanders because the senator has spoken on issues that matter to young people, including affordable education.

"More people are involved in this election," he said. "Trump is mobilizing a lot of people on both sides."

Saba Shoubah complained that there was no line of voters at the precinct where she cast her ballot.

"If you're not a part of the solution, you're a part of the problem," she wrote on Facebook, addressing Arab Americans.

Shoubah, 26, suspected that Clinton's supporters are backing her because she seems stronger.

"But Bernie Sanders is a leader that we would need, that genuinely has everyone's best interests at heart," she told The Arab American News. 

Houaida Ahmad, 21, an electrical engineering student at Wayne State University, said Sanders won her vote because she agrees with his policies that aim to help less fortunate Americans, especially on education and healthcare. 

Trump wins Dearborn

Surprisingly, Sanders was not the only winner in east Dearborn. Trump won the most votes in east side precincts in the Republican primary.

At Oakman Elementary, near Chase and Tireman, a predominantly Arab American neighborhood, Trump received 39 votes. Ohio Governor John Kasich was a distant second with 11 votes.

It hard to track where those Trump votes came from. They could be the ballots of White residents or Arab American Trump supporters.

While most Arab Americans are outspoken against Trump and scared of the prospects of his presidency, some community members are not immune to his seemingly frank "outsider" approach, which makes him popular among Republicans.

Both Sanders and Trump won over all in the city. On the Republican side, Trump received 3,196 votes. Kasich was second with 2,447. For Democrats, Sanders bested Clinton, 7,258 to 4,837 votes.

Sanders' appeal

Ali Baleed Almaklani, the executive director of the Yemen American Benevolent Association, said Sanders won the Arab vote because of his appeal to the youths and the direct communication with the community.

"He came to Dearborn twice," Almaklani said of Sanders. "He personally met with Arab American leaders. Hillary did not do that."

Almaklani added that Sanders' concern about inequality registered well with Arab Americans, who are mostly working and middle class families.

"Sanders was very straightforward with blaming Wall Street for the financial crisis," the YABA director added. "People in our community liked that. They found it honest."

Almaklani stressed the need for Democratic party unity, no matter who the nominee is, saying that Democrats are the most representative of the interests of the Arab American community.

The Arab American News surveyed more than a dozen Arab American voters, none of whom cited U.S. policy in the Middle East as a top issue for choosing a candidate.

Dr. Sally Howell, an Arab American studies professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said intra-Arab divisions about the Middle East are pushing foreign policy lower in the political priorities of Arab Americans.

"The Middle East right now is so complicated that there is no Arab position anymore on foreign policy," she said. "It used to be easy in terms of the Arab vote and foreign policy issues; it was mostly about Palestine... But now it is so complicated that there is no one position, even within the same household." 

By Ali Harb

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