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US Elections 2016: Growing number of Muslims desert the Republican Party

In this race, where every vote counts, an overwhelming number of Muslims are leaning towards the Democratic Party

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FILE - Young Muslims speak out during a campaign rally in Wichita, Kansas, March 5, 2016. Image Source: VOA
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Sept, 08, 2016: Once seen as a “natural” Republican constituency, Muslim-Americans are increasingly leaning Democratic, and they are expected to vote in record numbers for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election in November.

From overwhelmingly voting for George W. Bush in the 2000 election to backing Clinton in the current cycle, the Muslim shift in political allegiance has been precipitous, leading some critics to lament a lost Republican opportunity to keep an increasingly influential voting bloc.

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According to surveys conducted after the election, more than 70 percent of Muslims voted for Bush, and most of the 50,000 Muslim votes in Florida went to the Republican candidate. Bush won the election after a prolonged recount of the vote in Florida, a state he won by a mere 537 votes, and a dispute that ultimately was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial body.

FILE - President Barack Obama meets with members of Muslim-American community at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Feb. 3, 2016.
FILE – President Barack Obama meets with members of Muslim-American community at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Feb. 3, 2016. Source VOA

To Muslim-Americans and many conservatives alike, Bush’s victory was evidence not only of growing Muslim political weight but also of a “natural” affinity between Muslims and Republicans.

‘Socially and economically conservative’

Suhail Khan, a prominent Muslim-American Republican and former board member of the American Conservative Union, wrote that “Muslim-Americans are, by and large, both socially and economically conservative,” and therefore a natural Republican constituency.

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Many Muslim-Americans do share conservative Republican values of supporting strong families and traditional marriage, and opposing abortion. And Khan noted that a quarter of U.S. Muslims are small-business owners who favor Republican policies on lower taxes.

But the reason most Muslim-Americans voted for Bush in 2000 may have had less to do with shared values than a belief that Bush, in reaching out to Muslims and handling the historically divisive Israeli-Palestinian conflict, would follow in the moderate footsteps of his father, former president George H. W. Bush, whom they also supported in the 1992 election, according to John Esposito, a professor at Georgetown University and author of “The Future of Islam.”

If there was a high-water mark in the love affair between Muslim-Americans and the Republican Party, it was the 2000 election. In 2004, more than 90 percent of Muslim-Americans voted for John Kerry; in 2008 and 2014, Muslims voted for Barack Obama, by 89 percent and 85 percent, respectively, according to several estimates.

Islamophobia fuels switch

Why did so many Muslims desert the Republican Party after the 2000 election?

FILE - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, looks on as one of his supporter reaches for a sign that reads "Islamophobia is not the answer," at a rally in Oklahoma City, Feb. 26, 2016.
FILE – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, looks on as one of his supporter reaches for a sign that reads “Islamophobia is not the answer,” at a rally in Oklahoma City, Feb. 26, 2016. Source: VOA

The most common answer given by Muslim advocates is a resurgence in Islamophobia, and a U.S. foreign policy perceived as detrimental to Muslim interests around the world. While Bush sought to reassure Muslims after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that the United States was not at war with Islam, Republican policies and rhetoric have since reinforced a perception among many Muslims that the party is a hotbed of Islamophobia.

“Sadly, the Republican Party over the past 15 years has become the political epicenter of Islamophobia, introducing anti-Muslim policy proposals or anti-foreigner laws in at least 10 state legislatures,” said Robert McCaw of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “This has really driven the Muslim vote out of the Republican Party.”

But Islamophobia and foreign policy alone don’t explain the Muslim exodus toward the Democratic Party. A more compelling reason may lie in history. As Georgetown’s Esposito explains, most Muslim-Americans, like other immigrants, have long identified with the Democratic Party’s pro-immigration and social welfare policies; the Republican Party has appealed to only a small, mostly affluent segment of the community.

The Muslim-American population, estimated at around 3.5 million, is a heterogeneous lot. While African-Americans, historically a Democratic constituency, make up about one-third of the community, most Muslims in America are immigrants, hailing from dozens of countries, many with conservative backgrounds.

But among second- and third-generation Muslims coming of age in America, polls show their social attitudes have moderated in recent years. Many members of this rapidly growing community not only lean Democratic, but also embrace progressive views that are at odds with Republican orthodoxy.

Switching policies and parties

In the 2011 Pew survey, 70 percent of Muslims in America described themselves as Democrats or leaning Democratic, while 11 percent said they were Republicans or leaning Republican. Those numbers have held relatively steady since then. McCaw of CAIR cited another poll that showed 55 percent of Muslim-Americans describe themselves as moderate, while 26 percent identify as liberal.

FILE - A Muslim woman holds a poster during a protest against Donald Trump in New York, Dec. 20, 2015.
FILE – A Muslim woman holds a poster during a protest against Donald Trump in New York, Dec. 20, 2015. Source: VOA

Many analysts thought conservative Muslims and Republicans shared common views on issues such as homosexuality and the role of government. The 2011 Pew survey showed that Muslim-Americans have grown “considerably more accepting of homosexuality” since 2007. On the role of government, the survey found that 68 percent of Muslim-Americans preferred a bigger government providing more services over a smaller government providing fewer services.

“So not only do they switch parties and now are voting Democratic, but they’re also adopting some of the policies and positions and ethics” of the Democratic Party, McCaw said. “Traditionally, a number of immigrants from the Middle East or South Asia are more socially conservative, and there was a place for them in the Republican Party. But I think as people grow and develop in America, [they] definitely change their views and preferences over time; and more importantly, their children grow up here and they might be voting different than their parents previously had.”

Esposito says that Republicans and Muslims were not really natural allies to begin with, and that culturally and politically most Muslims feel more at home in the Democratic Party. He points to polls showing that far more Republicans than Democrats hold a negative view of Islam and Muslims.

At home among Democrats

The 2011 Pew Research Center found that that 15 percent of Muslims see the Republican Party as friendly toward their community, compared to 48 percent who see it as unfriendly. By contrast, 46 percent of Muslims found the Democratic Party friendly toward them, and only 7 percent said it was unfriendly.

Sajid Tarar, a longtime Muslim-American activist now campaigning for Republican Donald Trump, disputes the notion that most Muslims feel at home in the Democratic Party. He says the party “hardly recognizes us as a minority.”

But surveys show that the Muslim-American flight from the Republican Party has only deepened amid anti-Muslim rhetoric by Republican candidates, most notably Trump, who enraged many Muslims by saying “Islam hates us” and proposing to ban all Muslims from entering the country, a position he has since softened.

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton participates in a roundtable with Muslim community leaders at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, March 24, 2016.
FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton participates in a roundtable with Muslim community leaders at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, March 24, 2016. Image Source: VOA

Historically, Muslim voter turnout has been low in the U.S., but with surveys showing Islamophobia is a top issue, CAIR and other members of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations this year launched a “One America Campaign.” They hope to register 1 million new voters, an increase of nearly 300,000 since the 2012 presidential election.

Power of Muslim vote

Muslim turnout is expected to be high this year, Esposito says, with as much as 80 percent of the vote likely to go to Clinton.

The Muslim-American vote remains relatively small, but with large Muslim communities in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Muslim activists say their vote is likely to prove critical in tipping tight races in key swing states.

Meanwhile, both presidential campaigns say they see the Muslim-American vote as important.

The Trump campaign, perhaps recognizing the tepid level of support the Republican candidate enjoys among Muslim voters, appears far less focused on the community. Tarar says his American Muslims for Trump has about 1,000 followers, and he remains hopeful the candidate will visit a mosque soon.

“It is a very tight race and every vote counts,” said Tarar, who traveled with Trump earlier in the campaign and later spoke at the Republican National Convention. “Right now, they’re working on the African-American voters and issues.”

Clinton’s campaign says the Democratic candidate has met with Muslim community leaders over the past year and the campaign is working to mobilize Muslim voters in several key swing states.

“We’re not taking any vote for granted,” said Zara Rahim, a campaign spokeswoman on Muslim-American issues. (VOA)

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  • Jagpreet Kaur Sandhu

    A kind of dicy situation! Well the article is latest state and seems potraying things excatly.

  • srikrishna sadula

    I could see a current India which is a future of America, an electoral polarization on religious and caste lines..and advanced media houses also give tactic support to all this mess !! so sad!

  • Arya Sharan

    It is almost similar to the vote bank politics in India.

SHARE
  • Jagpreet Kaur Sandhu

    A kind of dicy situation! Well the article is latest state and seems potraying things excatly.

  • srikrishna sadula

    I could see a current India which is a future of America, an electoral polarization on religious and caste lines..and advanced media houses also give tactic support to all this mess !! so sad!

  • Arya Sharan

    It is almost similar to the vote bank politics in India.

Next Story

President Donald Trump Key Force In Driving The Midterms Elections

Trump’s name will not appear on the Nov. 6 ballots, but, he will clearly be front and center in the minds of voters

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Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks at a rally endorsing the Republican ticket in Erie, Pennsylvania, VOA

Three weeks before a crucial U.S. midterm election, it would be difficult to find much that Democrats and Republicans agree on. Both parties, however, seem to agree on one thing: President Donald Trump will be the key issue in elections that will determine control of Congress for the next two years.

For many voters, the “Trump factor” could be a deciding consideration in this year’s midterms. And as the president campaigns on behalf of Republicans around the country, he is quick to remind his supporters that he has a huge personal stake in the outcome on Nov. 6.

“All of this extraordinary progress is at stake,” Trump told a recent rally in Southaven, Mississippi. “I’m not on the ballot. But in a certain way, I am on the ballot. So please, go out and vote. Go out and vote.”

Motivating Democrats

As much as Trump motivates his core supporters, he also energizes critics like Jenny Heinz, who helped organize a recent anti-Trump rally in New York City.

“There is an active resistance to this president, who is operating as if he is above the law.”

No question, Trump is the central figure in this year’s election, according to American University analyst David Barker.

“Yes, Democrats from the day after the election in 2016 have been waiting for this day, and it is all about Trump,” Barker told VOA. “Trump fully embraces that. He wants it to be all about him.”

Historically, midterm elections have been a mix of local issues, local candidates, and partly a referendum on the sitting president.

This year’s campaign seems to have accelerated a trend whereby midterm congressional elections have increasingly become nationalized.

“It really is now all national, and everyone is kind of looking at this as either a referendum for or against the president and his party,” said George Washington University expert Lara Brown.

Trump
supporters of President Donald Trump, wearing Mike Braun for Congress shirts, cheer as he arrives for a campaign rally at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind. VOA

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, a majority of voters in both parties said a congressional candidate who shares their view of Trump is an important consideration as they assess the coming midterms.

Seizing the spotlight

Unlike some presidents who have tried to resist the idea that the midterms are a presidential referendum, Trump has willingly embraced it.

Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon told Associated Press Television that he favors the approach.

“I think if you make this a national referendum and nationalize this election on the success of President Trump’s program, it is a clear winner, and I think the Democrats get crushed.”

Others are skeptical, including former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

“All right, fine. You want it to be about you? Well, every candidate on the ballot now has to account for your behavior, has to account for your tweets,” said Steele, a recent guest on VOA’s Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren.

Climate Change, Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. VOA

Trump hopes to boost Republican turnout in November; but, Democrats argue he is likely to be just as effective in spurring their voters to the polls.

Maryland Democratic Representative Dutch Ruppersberger also spoke on Plugged In.

“When all you do is care about yourself and not about people, not about what they need – like your seniors needing medical care. And you just want to look good and knock them out (politically), which is happening, this is hurting. And this is why, I think, a lot of people will come out (to vote).”

Tending the base

Trump has been aggressive on the campaign trail courting his base, especially in Republican-leaning states where many of this year’s closer Senate races are taking place.

“They are focusing on their base, and they are trying to make sure that they are going to show up and vote. And it could make some difference in close midterm elections,” said University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato.

Trump, USA
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. administers the House oath of office to Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., during a mock swearing in ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, . VOA

Some Republicans have urged Trump to try and broaden his appeal beyond his base during campaign visits this year.

But Gallup pollster Frank Newport said the president has limited options.

Also Read: Obama On Why Its Important To Vote In This Midterm Elections

“He has kind of given up on attempting to broaden his appeal, it looks like. It fits more with his style,” said Newport. “He has, as we all know, a very combative style. He likes to have enemies because that gives him somebody to fight against. So, it would be hard for a president like Trump anyway to try and broaden his appeal.”

Trump’s name will not appear on the Nov. 6 ballots, but, he will clearly be front and center in the minds of voters, and the midterm results could determine the future of his presidency. (VOA)