Survey examines Muslim voting patterns

The survey explored demographic and political statistics of Muslims nationwide.

by Cati Vanden Breul

On Tuesday, Minnesota became the first state to send a Muslim to U.S. Congress.

Less than a month before Democrat Keith Ellison, a Muslim and the first black Minnesotan elected to Congress, defeated Republican Alan Fine in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a survey indicating that Muslim voters are concentrated in 12 states, Minnesota among them.

According to the survey, out of all registered Muslim voters nationwide, California had the highest percentage at 20 percent, while Minnesota came in 12th with 2.8 percent.

Researchers took a randomized sample of 1,000 Muslim voters from around the country and profiled their demographic information and political attitudes.

The study is the first scientific survey of American Muslim voters, said Corey Saylor, CAIR spokesman.

According to the results, nearly half of Muslim voters consider themselves Democrats, while only 17 percent said they identified with the Republican Party.

Although Muslims tend to agree with Republicans on social issues like abortion and family values, Saylor said, they identify with Democratic stances on civil rights.

“Post-Sept. 11, civil rights has become the No. 2 issue in the Muslim community,” he said. “In civil rights and civil liberties we see far more from the Democratic side of things.”

A quarter of respondents ranked education as the most important issue, with the conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia – including those in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan – coming in close behind.

“The Patriot Act and Iraq are two of the top issues that have pushed Muslims away from the Republican Party,” Saylor said.

In 2000, many Muslims voted for President Bush because of his pledge to do away with secret evidence, but he has since lost support, in part because he did not keep that pledge, Saylor said.

Sami Khwaja, president of the University Muslim Students Association, said Bush’s foreign policy has alienated Muslims.

“It’s one of the major issues we have a problem with,” Khwaja said.

But University College Republicans director Trevor Ford said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should draw Muslims to the Republican Party, instead of the Democrats.

“Republicans have been the ones advocating to free Muslims around the world,” Ford said.

Although 55 percent of Muslims polled in the survey said the war on terrorism has turned into a war on Islam, the political science senior said the respondents are wrong.

“A lot of Muslim groups, like CAIR, portray Bush as attacking Muslims and creating a climate of fear for Muslims, when really that is not the case,” Ford said.

The government’s top priority should be to ensure national security, he said.

“I don’t think the President and the government in general should be worrying about the feelings of Muslims necessarily if it has to do with national security,” Ford said. “People say over and over that it is not a war on Islam Ö I don’t know what else anyone could do.”

Saylor said despite negative rhetoric from some candidates this election season, Muslims are starting to get more involved in the political process.

“The use of fear tactics actually reinforces the message we’ve been giving the (Muslim) community,” he said. “America guarantees civil rights, but you have to stand up and earn them.”

Muslims can make their voices heard by contacting their representatives and letting them know what issues are most important to them, he said.

“The squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease,” Saylor said.

Khwaja said Ellison’s victory will pave the way for Muslims hoping to get into politics in the future.

“I think this will open a lot of doors,” he said.

Prior to the elections, Ellison came to campus and talked to Muslim students about the importance of exercising the right to vote.

“He said being Muslim on campus is a big deal and it is good to have a Muslim voice out there,” Khwaja said.

Apparently, he said, the students listened.

“When I walked into the (Muslim student) center, almost everyone was wearing an ‘I voted’ sticker,” Khwaja said. “It was good to see.”