Saif Alnuweiri

Led by a New Generation, Muslim Americans Are Making Their Presence Felt in the Presidential Campaign

The political future of the American Muslim vote seems anchored in the Democratic Party after years of enduring Islamophobia and bigotry from the Republican Party. This year’s election cycle marked the return of American Muslims to national politics after more than a decade of political dormancy. In many ways it has already exceeded the political participation of the 2000 elections, when Muslims formed a sought after voting bloc in support of the Republican, George W. Bush. Led by a new generation that came of age after 9/11, Muslims have shifted their support to the Democratic presidential candidates seeking the outsized voting power of political minorities to help defeat an increasingly white, male and overwhelmingly evangelical Christian Republican party.

It’s not difficult to see what has accounted for this change. The Republican Party has pushed out almost any support it once had among Muslims. Whereas 50,000 Muslims helped deliver George W. Bush enough votes to contest the Florida election results in 2000. As Sami Al-Arian explained for Alternet, Muslims mobilized after Bush promised to end the practice of secret evidence, a pledge he reneged on after 9/11. Today’s Muslim voters are overwhelmingly Democratic, and increasingly leaning towards Bernie Sanders. Along with outright Republican hostility, the changing nature of the national debate over race and the increasing diversification of younger generations of Americans have emboldened American Muslims to be more vocal in their politics and engage with it at a grassroots level.

“A lot of people I talked to about Bernie Sanders, they would say, Bernie who?’” said Ahmed Bedier, founder of United Voices for America, a non-profit, and of the Facebook group Muslim Americans for Bernie Sanders. Bedier has helped with the Sanders campaign in his personal capacity, so as not to violate the political neutrality of UVA. “It wasn’t until May or June that I started paying attention to his message, which is a lot of the things I was working for, that we need a political revolution, that we need more people in the political process, more diversity in government.”

Political organizers like Bedier support Sanders for more reasons than his defense of Muslims. They too share the notion that the economic and political system is rigged to benefit the top 1 percent of society, and they have been motivated by the belief that two or more seemingly unrelated sociopolitical issues exist because they originate from many of the same systemic problems.

While the public has engaged in a well-publicized debate about the effects of the 1994 Violent Crimes Act on the black community, the 1996 Secret Evidence Act harmed the American Muslim community in much the same way. “They would arrest you and say the evidence is so secret and classified that we can’t tell you what it is,” said Bedier. “The Secret Evidence Act disproportionately impacted the Muslim community and we need to bring attention to that because it was used so many times to unjustly put people away.”

“I think younger Muslim voters see themselves in a natural alliance with other communities of color and in alliance with social justice issues,” said Dalia Mogahed, a researcher at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) who worked on a January poll of Muslim political and social attitudes. “For those reasons they identify with Bernie Sanders, they identify with his progressive politics.”

The poll (PDF) showed that among Muslims 18-24 years old, 78 percent supported Sanders. Among the 25-44 demographic, that number decreased to 44 percent support for Sanders. Overall though, Clinton was the most favored candidate, enjoying support levels of 40 percent of American Muslims polled, while Sanders came in second with 27 percent. There have been just three national polls looking at the political and social attitudes of American Muslims during the 2016 election cycle.

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