By Marwan Kreidie and James Zogby
President-elect Joe Biden’s victory on Nov. 3 was historic. Not only did he win the most popular votes ever, but the engagement strategies utilized by the campaign helped to expand the electoral constituency for the Democratic ticket.
Instead of just focusing on what some Democratic operatives have come to call their “base vote” – Black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ, and educated professional women – the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee committed resources and staff to engage a wide range of diverse ethnic voters.
We are both involved in the National Democratic Coordinating Committee (NDECC), a council of the Democratic Party that represents Democrats who trace their heritage to countries from Europe, the Mediterranean regions, and Africa.
For two decades we have been pushing our party to commit to outreach to our communities. Just a half century ago, our ethnic groups – Irish, Italian, Polish, Arab, and Eastern and Central European, – formed the bedrock of the Democratic Party. Because the party stopped engaging with our communities, over time, Democrats lost our support.
This year was different.
The Biden campaign made a consequential decision to go after both their “base vote” and expend resources and staff time to bring our ethnic voters back to the Democratic fold. And this strategy paid off. Ethnic leaders from the Irish, Italian, Polish, Greek, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, African, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian communities were engaged in organizing calls, policy discussions, and phone banking.
Our Arab American community was one of the constituencies that the Biden campaign took seriously. In fact, their outreach to Arab Americans was historic.
We had several policy sessions with senior advisers to Mr. Biden. We had input into the platform. They issued a remarkable six-page policy paper (in Arabic and English) directed at Arab community concerns; hired Arab American staff to assist with the outreach effort; and had Mrs. Biden and Senator Kamala Harris visit well-known Arab American neighborhoods and businesses.
All this outreach paid off. Exit polls show that Mr. Biden made significant gains among ethnic working-class voters across the Midwest. And in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the combined efforts of leaders from multiple communities brought an increase in voter turnout in key counties.
Work with Arab American voters focused on Michigan and Pennsylvania. Polling showed that Arab American voter turnout was in the 80 percent range, with Mr. Biden leading Mr. Trump by 25 percent. In Pennsylvania, Arab American organizing focused on community concentrations in Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley, and Erie contributing to strong Biden numbers, including the flipping of Northampton and Erie Counties from red to blue.
And in Michigan, home to more than 300,000 Arab Americans, voter turnout was exceptionally high – 12% over 2016 totals – with the lion’s share going to Mr. Biden.
The lesson for Democrats should be clear. Party strategists have focused on the “base vote” in recent elections while ignoring ethnic voters.
As a result, we handed them to Republicans on a silver platter. What Joe Biden’s campaign made clear is that the path to victory isn’t a choice between the base vote (“minority communities,” millennials, and professional women) or ethnic voters. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.
Marwan Kreidie is the executive director of the Philadelphia Arab American Development Corps. Dr. James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute in Washington D.C