Princeton University Associate Professor of Politics Amaney Jamal speculated that 85% – 95% of Muslim Americans would vote for President Obama in 2012. That was a bit of an overestimate as the actual number was closer to 70%. However, their support has not always been in favor of Democrats; Muslim Americans are historically dynamic voters. For example, as a group Muslim Americans voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush in 2000, Clinton in 1996, and George H.W. Bush in 1992. the Muslim American vote has been especially important in key swing states like Florida, Michigan, and Ohio.
The Republican Party has clearly alienated the Muslim population in the US, while Democrats have won them over, this time anyway. But why? Julie Poucher Harbin of ISLAMiCommentary writes that Muslims voted decidedly for Obama in 2008 (89%) and again in 2012 (68%) “despite the fact that many Muslim Americans hold conservative social and economic values – including on same-sex marriage (against), abortion (against), and school choice (for) – and have supported Republicans in the past.” Furthermore, Muslim Americans are not wholly supportive of President Obama’s administration, especially because of its use of drone attacks overseas and surveillance of mosques at home. In short, Muslims could have been wooed by Romney and the Republicans, but they weren’t. Many analysts have argued that the Republican Party has established itself – and election results support this notion – as the party of white, Christian men. This is largely due to ultra-conservative rhetoric isolating women, the poor, and minorities – including Muslims. Muslim Americans feel the Islamophobia from the far right, they feel the support for racial and religious profiling, they feel anti-Muslim sentiment packaged as quasi-patriotism, and they responded at the ballot box.
However, this election’s story of Muslims voting blue is about more than Islamophobia. Hind Makki said to Policymic, “Most middle-class Muslims and Arabs believe that a Romney presidency will negatively affect their pocketbook and access to health care.” Furthermore, “Arab Americans and Muslims don’t trust that Romney & his foreign policy team will enact different policies than Bush, considering many of his advisers are from Bush’s team.” The ghost of Iraq is still a very real force.
As the Muslim population of the US continues to grow (faster than any other religious group) in America, it will be an influential constituency at the ballot box. The political opinions of Muslims, a blend of social conservatism, moderately left-leaning economics, and progressive foreign policy are a curious combination that has guided swings left and right historically. The partisan incoherence and volatility of Muslim American voting trends result in part from the narrow lens through which they often view social issues. One solution to the contradiction would be for Muslims to embrace a different understanding of the role of religion in policy making on personal social issues (such as same-sex marriage and abortion), a view that affirms the separation of religion and state, all the while affirming religious freedoms.