Muslims poised to play major role in U.S. election

Pic by samantha celera, via Flickr

A new report released this week by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that American Muslims could be a key swing vote in the upcoming presidential election — especially in Florida, where community groups have been able to increase voter turnout among Muslims.

Last month, the Orlando Sentinel published an article arguing that “Muslims have the potential to play a pivotal role in the 2012 election as Islamophobia and immigration issues galvanize the minority group into a voting bloc.” According to the Sentinel,Florida has an estimated 124,000 registered Muslim voters, and Orange and Osceola counties rank high in registered Muslim voters.”

According to the study (.pdf) authored by Farid Senzai, the director of research for the Institute, “Muslim voters in Florida offer a potential opportunity of bloc voting for candidates at the local, state, and national levels.”

“Any political party that recognizes the community’s needs and addresses them will potentially gain the Muslim vote,” Senzai wrote.

But as the Independent reported last month, Muslim activists involved in both Florida and national politics say that the Democratic Party is taking their growing voting bloc for granted, while the Republican Party has harbored a vicious current of Islamophobia. Activists argue that neither major party has significantly courted, defended or accessed the needs and values of the American Muslim community.

If this continues, the study shows that it could be a mistake. According to the report, Muslims votes could be key not just in Florida, which has galvanized the vote slightly more than other states because of groups like Emerge USA, but for most swing states.

Senzai concluded in his study:

American Muslims are invested in the United States, increasingly engaged in its political process, and have a real stake in its future. Although a substantial portion of them are of immigrant origin, a growing number identify as “American” and desire to be politically active. As second- and third-generation immigrant Muslims mature and reach voting age, the community is becoming far more sophisticated in its effort to bring about political change.

American Muslims as a group are gaining political self-identity and flexing their political muscles, there is a noticeable connection between one’s level of political participation and level of religiosity, and that a higher level of religiosity and mosque activism leads to a higher level of political participation.

Moving beyond the national data, the report presents case studies of the Muslim communities in the swing states of Florida and Michigan. Two conclusions have been drawn: (1) in the traditional swing state of Florida, the community has the potential of becoming a powerful voting bloc that might just be able to change the outcome of future elections at the national and local level; and (2) in Michigan, home to the country’s largest Muslim population, the data on its community suggests that Muslims are an active part of politics in the state.

Senzai also touched upon how the rampant Islamopobia in states like Florida, in which he says Islmaophobia is “flourishing,” has further galvanized Muslim voters. Senzai wrote that “Islamophobia is the chief element in defining American Muslims as a disenfranchised group.”

“Therefore, anyone who identifies as a Muslim at any level will move closer to a group consciousness that will orient the Muslim vote toward the party that seeks to empower this group,” he wrote.

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Ashley Lopez

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