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Why Muslim Votes Matter in the American Presidential Elections?

Why Muslim Votes Matter in the American Presidential Elections?
Why Muslim Votes Matter in the American Presidential Elections?

This is, allegedly, the strangest presidential election in the history of the United States. The threat of COVID-19 is dictating the course of political and social events surrounding the elections. Citizens are forced to vote through mail, adding more complexity to the already complex electoral system. President Trump, his family members, and assistants caught the Coronavirus, only one month before the voting day, which led to the cancelation of a scheduled debate against the Democrat candidate, former vice-president Joe Biden. Yet, the most surprising factor in this election, is that both candidates, Trump and Biden, are trying hard to sweep the votes of American Muslims.

In a gesture reminiscent of the nostalgic days of former president Obama, Biden used the Islamic term “Inshallah” in his first debate with Trump, on September 29th. In the early days of his campaign, Biden recorded a video urging Muslims to join his campaign and cited a Hadith (wisdom saying) by Prophet Mohammad urging Muslims to be positively active in changing the status quo that they do not approve of. Joe Biden is widely supported by organized Islamist groups, especially those with controversial historical links to the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Biden is also endorsed by several high-profile Muslim officials, including Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who are also Democrats.

On the other hand, Trump’s re-election campaign abandoned the harsh rhetoric against Muslims that was adopted by President Trump, in his previous electoral campaign. After an angry statement that Trump made, in March 2016, saying “I think Islam hates us… We're having problems with the Muslims, and we're having problems with Muslims coming into the country;” he vowed to impose “a total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration, which the media labeled later as the “Muslim ban.” Unfortunately, the “Muslim ban” was among the very early executive orders issued by Trump, in January 2017, after he became president.

In ultimate contrast, the current electoral campaign of President Trump invented a sub-organization with the name “Muslim Voices for Trump” which is actively trying to mobilize American Muslims, especially the young, to vote for Trump, in November. Ironically, despite the extreme position Trump held against Muslim citizens, at least 30% of them approve of his performance, according to the annual poll of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), released in October 2020. However, since its establishment in August, the “Muslim Voices for Trump” has been receiving fiery attacks by democratic activists. A public event held by the Muslim Voices for Trump on Zoom, in mid-October, was terminated after only 20 minutes, because of the unbearable amount of verbal attacks by participating democratic (anti-Trump) activists.

Now, the question is whether American Muslim votes do matter in deciding the final results of the presidential elections. The answer to this question varies greatly if approached through quantitative versus qualitative analyses.

Quantitatively, the number of Muslim voters is by no means a determining factor in this or any national voting. According to the latest statistics by the Pew Research Center, published in 2017, the total number of American Muslims is estimated at 3.45 million people; representing about 1.1% of the total population. In 2016, motivated by Trump’s hostile statements against Muslims, more than one million American Muslims got themselves registered to vote. Despite this being a record number of registered Muslim voters in US election history, they could not influence the final result of the elections, and Trump became the president.

Qualitatively, the growing political and social impact of young American Muslims could play an unexpected role in shifting the usual balance of votes. Under the Trump administration, Islamist civil society organizations, Muslim student associations, and independent Muslim individuals became highly active on the political and social fronts. Even more active than they were under the former Obama administration, which was known for its exceptional support to Muslims, in the US and worldwide. The women’s rights protests and the “Black Lives Matter” movement, for instance, marked exceptional interest and participation by large numbers of young Muslims. In parallel, Islamist civil society organizations took extraordinary steps to join forces with Jewish organizations, despite a long history of ideological prejudices. For example, immediately after Trump’s victory, in November 2016, The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) co-established a national advocacy group with the name “The Muslim Jewish Advisory Council.”

Nevertheless, American Muslims are a vibrant young community with vivid ethnic and racial diversity. According to the aforementioned statistics by the Pew Research Center, “Adults ages 18 to 39 make up 60% of the Muslim American adult population, compared with 38% of the US adult population as a whole.” The majority of them are second and third generations in their immigrant families. They are born in the US and call America their motherland. Also, they are highly active in their ethnic groups: Arabs, Asians, Africans, etc.

These statistics, simply, mean that the actual voter weight of the American Muslims exceeds their relatively small number as a population. Their actual impact is multiplied by the number of the American youth groups they are active members of and the vast ethnic communities they belong to and can easily mobilize to vote for either candidate. In that sense, it should not be surprising that both presidential candidates, Trump and Biden, are competing over American Muslims votes.


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