Islam and Obama: American Muslims overwhelmingly voted Democratic

Posted on November 8, 2008

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 Lorraine Ali

NEWSWEEK http://www.newsweek.com/id/168062

For the past few months, not a day went by without the words “Muslim” and “Obama” being mentioned in the same sentence. From the divisive shouts and jeers at McCain rallies to the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times to an interview with Colin Powell on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Muslims—or at least the mention of them—have been more prevalent this campaign year than Joe The Plumber.

But beyond the use of the term Muslim as a pejorative, and accusations by the far right that Obama was himself a secret follower of the Quran, what did real Muslim-Americans think of the Chicago senator? And how did they vote? The American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections released a poll today of over 600 Muslims from more than ten states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, and it revealed that 89% of respondents voted for Obama, while only 2% voted for McCain. It also indicated that 95% of Muslims polled cast a ballot in this year’s presidential election—the highest turnout in a U.S. election ever—and 14% of those were first-time voters. The Gallup Center for Muslim studies estimates that U.S. Muslims favored Obama in greater numbers than did Hispanics (67% of whom voted for Obama)—and nearly matched that of African-Americans, 93% of whom voted for Obama. More than two-thirds who were polled said the economy was the most important issue affecting their decision on November 4th, while 16% said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan informed their vote—numbers that put Muslims roughly on a par with the general population.

Many Muslim Americans also changed their party affiliations for this election. The country’s Muslim population, estimated at between 7 to 8 million, has traditionally voted along conservative, Republican lines. Today, more than two-thirds of American Muslims polled say they consider themselves to be Democrats, while only 4% see themselves as Republicans (29% identified as Independents.) The shift began in 2004—in part because of the GOP’s handling of civil liberties, from wiretapping American citizens to detaining Muslims in the US and Guantanamo without trail, and because of the war in Iraq. This year, many more were drawn into the Democratic party by Obama himself. Muslims across the country were captivated by the senator’s promise of unity and hope. On the Muslim-Americans for Obama website (or “Mafo2008.com”), their mission statement includes the following: “That we support Barack Obama because, among other reasons, he rejects the politics of fear, challenging our nation to embrace its collective identity, where each American has a stake in the success and well-being of every American.”

“All the Muslim Americans I know were excited and electrified by him,” says Salman Ahmed, the New York-based guitarist and singer of the Pakistani-American rock band Junoon. He’s dedicated several recent concerts to getting the vote out for Obama. “It was not like ‘Good, Obama gets the Muslim world.’ It was ‘Oh My God! Here’s a guy who understands the world, us, America.’ Voting for him was a no brainer.”

But many Muslims kept their presidential preference a secret in the months leading up to Super Tuesday, fearing that an endorsement from them might in fact work against Obama. [more]

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