An overwhelming majority of American Muslims support Democratic presidential candidates, according to a poll completed by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) last week. This isn’t exactly a surprise, given the blatant Islamophobia coming from nearly every Republican presidential candidate, but the poll gave some insight into how the Muslim electorate has shifted, politically, over the past two decades.
The survey reported that a majority of American Muslims, 52 percent, supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential run. “As an immigrant community, there’s a long memory of the work she has done abroad,” said Robert McCaw, Department Manager of Government Affairs at CAIR. “So, you essentially have two generations of Muslim immigrants who have been exposed to Clinton before they have even heard of Sanders.”
Strong support for Clinton also revealed that American Muslims are not opposed to female leadership, despite familiar tropes by the American right that Islam promotes a rigid, undemocratic and patriarchal social order. “When you look at Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, even Kosovo, these are Muslim oriented countries that have already had female leaders, presidents, and prime ministers,” said McCaw. “So this is nothing new, for Muslims to elect a female leader. This may be something new for America.”
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders placed second in the survey, earning the support of 22 percent of respondents. Sanders was one of the most vocal opponents of the Islamophobic atmosphere many Muslims have been forced to confront since the start of this election cycle. At a town hall with students at George Mason University, he approached the podium with a Muslim student and pledged to fight Islamophobia and all forms of racism as president.
The rising tide of xenophobia has propelled Islamophobia into the forefront of Muslims’ election issues. “Islamophobia went from being ranked third to ranking first. It doubled from 15 to 30 percent from 2014 to 2016,” said McCaw. “Muslims are going to support candidates that respect religious diversity and reject candidates who engage in the politics of fear.” Even before Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country, a 2011 Gallup report revealed that 48 percent of Muslim respondents had experienced some sort of religious discrimination within the past year.
But Donald Trump, the merchant of fear himself, was ahead among the 15 percent of Muslims who said they would vote Republican. He polled at seven percent overall.
Republican-voting Muslims are a rare sight. Their political opinions have changed notably since 2000, when they were a key demographic in George W. Bush’s Florida victory. Prior to his party’s turn against the Muslim community, mildly conservative social values and a focus on economic growth made Muslims gravitate towards the Republican party.
Since the September 11 attacks, invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and subsequent increases in anti-Muslim sentiment, American Muslims have swung towards the Democratic Party. The transition was already complete by the 2004 elections, when 76 percent of American Muslims said they were voting for John Kerry.
American Muslims remain an extremely small minority in the country. A report by Pew Research Center published in December 2015 estimated there to be 2.75 million Muslims in America, less than one percent of the population. But there are large Muslim communities in swing states like Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Florida that could be a substantial help to Democrats in 2016, whether it’s a former first lady and secretary of state or a Jewish democratic socialist on the ticket.
Photo: Muslim students at San Diego State University hold a prayer before a rally against Islamophobia in San Diego, California. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker