|www.amperspective.com Online Magazine||Executive Editor: Abdus Sattar Ghazali|
|AMP comment | Muslims in politics | Special reports | Press center | Muslim charities | Civil liberties|
| AMP Report – April, 7, 2012
The Muslim swing vote in 2012 election
As the 2012 presidential election season moves into full swing, the American Muslim minority community has become a more important player on the political landscape, especially in key swing states, says a report titled Engaging American Muslims: Political Trends and Attitudes released by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding on April 3, 2012.
According to Farid Senzai, author of the report, although it is true that American Muslims constitute a small percentage of the national population, they are concentrated in key swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida. “Despite being very diverse and far from monolithic, this constituency is growing faster than any other religious community and has become increasingly visible and sophisticated in its political engagement. Republicans who found the Muslim community an easy target in the primaries may find themselves in trouble in the states that may determine the winner of the election.”
The report examined a decade’s worth of data on American Muslim political attitudes and includes a case study of Florida, which remains a perennial tossup. In addition to the razor-thin margin in 2000, the state’s 2004 and 2008 elections were settled by less than 2% of the vote. In 2000, a few hundred votes decided the election; an estimated 60,000 Muslims in Florida voted for Bush. Florida’s Muslim population, which has been growing since the 1980s, is now estimated by some to include 124,000 registered voters. No campaigner can afford to disregard them.
The report primarily draws upon surveys conducted by the Muslims in the American Public Square (MAPS) project in 2001 and 2004, the Pew Research Center’s national surveys on the American Muslim Community in 2007 and 2011, and the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey (MAPOS) conducted between 2006 and 2008.
Key findings of the report
American Muslims were at a political and social crossroad after September 11, 2001. Soon after 9/11, the majority of Muslims engaged in a massive political shift away from the Republican Party. Arab-American and South Asian-American Muslims who initially supported Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) in the 2000 presidential election gave their support to Senator John Kerry (D-MA) in 2004. This political realignment was a result of several factors, among them the passing of laws such as the PATRIOT Act and the Bush administration’s decision to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Between 2001 and 2004, the percentage of American Muslims who were dissatisfied with the country’s direction soared from 38 percent to 63 percent.
The shift toward the Democratic Party was further strengthened when the community voted overwhelmingly for Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) in 2008. Despite some disappointments, the community strongly supported him during his first term in office. In 2011, Obama continued to maintain a higher approval rating among American Muslims than the general public.
Since 9/11, American Muslims have faced increased discrimination, profiling, and hate crimes. The MAPS study suggests that they have experienced a dramatic increase in all types of discrimination since that tragic incident. In 2009, 58 percent of Americans expressed the belief that Muslims face “a lot” of discrimination. The increased animosity toward them, coupled with the rise of Islamophobia, has motivated the community to mobilize and become more politically active.
Research has shown that American Muslims are well informed about politics and pay attention to what is happening both at home and abroad. The vast majority of them want to be politically involved, with 95 percent stating that American Muslims should participate in the political process. Voter registration in the community, however, continues to trail that of the general public. The Pew survey suggests that 66 percent of the community’s were registered to vote in 2011. This percentage would likely be much higher if one were to count only those who are citizens and therefore eligible to vote.
Contrary to growing public opinion, most American Muslims do not see a conflict between their faith and being American or living in a modern society. The majority of them feel that American Muslims, a large number of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants, should adopt American culture and become part of the mainstream. Furthermore, studies support the idea that mosques, like churches and synagogues, are associated with a higher level of civic engagement. American Muslims who were engaged in their mosques were found to be 53 percent more involved in civic activities (e.g., charity organizations, school and/or youth programs) than those who were not connected or involved with a mosque.
American Muslims are more concerned with domestic than foreign policy
When it comes to American policy in the Middle East and the “war on terror,” American Muslims have been largely unsupportive of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the lowest amount of support being found among African-American Muslims. There has been, however, a decreasing skepticism about the sincerity of the “war against terror” over the decade. Most community members believe that the best way to combat terror is to change American policy in the Middle East and to address the region’s social, economic, and political issues. The majority of them continue to believe that Israel and Palestine can coexist and that a solution to the conflict is possible.
The Florida case study suggests that the American Muslim voter community is increasingly engaged, in part due to the mobilization efforts of Emerge USA and similar organizations. In a swing state, the community has the potential to impact the election’s outcome. Similarly, American Muslims in Michigan were found to be very active and politically engaged.
Muslim bashing by Republicans
In an OpEd in New York Times, Farid Senzai, pointed out that as the 2012 presidential election picks up steam, Republican candidates find it tempting and beneficial to bash Muslims as a way to attract voters. He went on to say:
“In the wake of the 2010 midterm elections, “Americans are learning what Europeans have known for years: Islam-bashing wins votes,” the journalist Michael Scott Moore wrote that November. At the time, many of the 85 new Republican House members buoyed by the surging Tea Party movement found the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric an easy way to prove their mettle to the surging conservative base.
“Since then, the animosity against Muslims has only intensified. Republican presidential hopefuls Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich frequently warned that Muslims were attempting to take over the government and impose Shariah law, using “stealth Jihad,” as Gingrich put it in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute late last year.
“The problem for the United States, the former speaker of the house argued, is not primarily terrorism; it is Shariah — “the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth.” Rick Santorum, not one to shy away from the subject, continues to conflate Muslims with radical Islamists. He has often warned audiences of the dangers of losing the war to “radical Islam,” even suggesting in a 2007 speech at the National Academic Freedom Conference that the American response to the threat should be to “educate, engage, evangelize and eradicate.”
Farid Senzai believes that this type of anti-Muslim rhetoric is deployed by some candidates in an apparent attempt to tap into hostility among the voters who make up the base of the party. In a sense, this approach is validated by recent polls suggesting that Republicans are more likely to have anti-Muslim sentiments. The political scientists Michael Tesler and David Sears wrote in their 2010 book, “Obama’s Race,” that feelings about Muslims are a strong predictor about feelings about Obama. They found that “general election vote choice in 2008 was more heavily influenced by feelings about Muslims than it was in either 2004 voting or in McCain-Clinton trial heats.” As we get closer to the November election, the most likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, will have to balance between pandering to voters on the far right of his party, some of whom are already wary of him, and more moderate voters.
While an anti-Muslim strategy may have worked in the past, it is risky because many agree that the outcome of the 2012 presidential election will probably be determined in no more than twelve states, Senzai warned and added that these are the same states where minority groups, including American Muslims, are likely to play a decisive role.
The Report Recommendations
1) Provide Resources to Further Mobilize the Community: Empirical evidence suggests that American Muslims are increasingly active and civically engaged citizens. Although their level of political incorporation and mobilization has increased over the past decade, the community as a whole is still not as engaged as it could be. For example, some levels of involvement trail behind those of the general public, including the percentage of those who are active members of a political party or contribute to political campaigns. Community organizers must provide the information and resources needed to help motivate and mobilize the community further.
2) Tap into the Community’s Active Segments: Nationally, African-American Muslims were found to be most active in almost all categories of political participation, compared to immigrant Muslims. In addition, state level data in Michigan showed high political engagement by women and young people. Community organizers and political strategists should tap into these highly active subgroups to lead their communities.
3) Engage with Mosque Communities: Evidence suggests that higher levels of religiosity and mosque attendance lead to higher levels of political participation. This can be seen in mosque participants’ higher voting levels, increased awareness of the issues, writing to their representatives, engaging peacefully in political protest, and other indicators of political activity. Candidates, political leaders, and community organizers trying to reach out to Muslim voters should reach out to the mosque leadership and active members.
4) Speak to the Issues That Concern American Muslims: The American Muslim community can be cultivated for either a Republican or a Democratic candidate, particularly in such swing states as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. This report highlights evidence that candidates can build better relations with the community by demonstrating awareness of those issues that are of most concern to community members.