The Council on American-Islamic Relations released poll results this week showing that 68 percent of American Muslims support President Obama while just 7 percent support Mitt Romney (1 in 4 remain undecided). These results reflect a new reality for Republicans: American Muslims are rushing toward Democrats. In 2008, 49 percent of Muslim-Americans felt “closer” to Democrats. Now that number has shot up to 66 percent. That’s in contrast to the population as a whole, where Democratic favorability has actually gone down 11 percent.
It’s only recently that the numbers shifted. In 1992, a majority of American Muslims voted for George H.W. Bush. While Bill Clinton won the American Muslim vote in 1996, Muslims continued to trend toward Republicans for the next several years. Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy wrote about a moment in 2000 when a Muslim American political action committee endorsed a Republican:
“The new political action committee spurred voter registration drives and candidate forums, and served as a portal for fundraising efforts; it ultimately endorsed Bush, after securing key promises on the use of secret evidence in deportation cases and racial profiling. After the election, CAIR trumpeted the role of Muslim–Americans in the Republican victory. According to an informal survey of the group’s membership, 72 percent of Florida Muslims had cast their votes for Bush.”
What could account for the shift? Throughout the last 10-years, anti-Muslim sentiment among the right wing and the Republican Party has proliferated significantly. In the background is a vast and well-funded Islamophobia network providing the anti-Islam intellectual framework that trickles its way to mainstream right-wing politicians, as documented in a CAP report last year titled “Fear, Inc,“:
[T]his core group of deeply intertwined individuals and organizations manufacture and exaggerate threats of “creeping Sharia,” Islamic domination of the West, and purported obligatory calls to violence against all non-Muslims by the Quran.
This network of hate is not a new presence in the United States. Indeed, its ability to organize, coordinate, and disseminate its ideology through grassroots organizations increased dramatically over the past 10 years. Furthermore, its ability to influence politicians’ talking points and wedge issues for the upcoming 2012 elections has mainstreamed what was once considered fringe, extremist rhetoric.
There are many examples of the Islamophobia network’s influence on mainstream American politics. For example, in 2007, Mitt Romney said that he would not select a Muslim to serve in his Presidential cabinet (a statement he later denied). Four years later, in 2011, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) held an over-the-top congressional hearing about the “Radicalization of American Muslims.” At the state level, over the past two years Republican-controlled legislatures in several states including Kansas and Oklahoma tried to legislate Islamophobia, passing bans on Sharia law.
Politicians like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) have taken things further: Bachmann recently led an anti-Muslim witch-hunt alleging that the Muslim Brotherhood had made a “deep penetration in the halls of our United States government.” Bachmann went on to claim that a top Hillary Clinton aide had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Joe Walsh, a Republican congressman from Illinois, said earlier this year that: “there is a radical strain of Islam in this country — it’s not just over there — trying to kill Americans every week.”
However, it’s important to note that not all Republicans have gone King and Bachmann’s route. “This Sharia law business is crap,” GOP New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has said. “It’s just crazy. And I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.” In August, Christie referred to Islamophobic conservatives as “bigots.” “I’ll tell you that there is a gaze of intolerance that is going around our country that is disturbing to me,” he said.