Islamophobia became Muslim Americans primary voting concern after a year fraught with anti-Muslim incidents, according to a new survey conducted by the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). But that hasn’t stopped the most flagrant offender of anti-Muslim rhetoric from being the preferred Republican candidate among Muslim-Americans.
Donald Trump came in third among candidates of both parties, with just over seven percent support in CAIR’s poll. Sen. Cruz (R-TX) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush came in behind Trump with just 2 percent. Republican candidates’ figures were dwarfed by the leading Democrat candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders who polled at 52 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
But Trump’s support is still somewhat of a surprise after repeated incidents of anti-Muslim rhetoric, including Trump’s infamous call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
“I think because of his anti-establishment [views] and his business background gives hope for economic policies Republicans traditionally aligned with,” Sabah Ahmed, founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition, told ThinkProgress. “He has worked with Muslims all his life, and he has properties all over the Middle East, despite [his] anti-Muslim rhetoric, and many business dealings with our constituency and knows we’re good people.”
“There are a core group of Muslim Republicans and [Donald] Trump and [Sen. Ted] Cruz are the frontrunners of the Republican party and those Muslims will support the party as party loyalists do,” CAIR’s Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw, who oversaw the survey, told ThinkProgress.
The most important issue for 24 percent of Muslim-Americans in 2014 was the economy, whereas Islamophobia was the most important issue for 15 percent. In 2016, the economy stood firm with Muslim voters at 24 percent but Islamophobia jumped to become the most important issue for 30 percent of the this community.
CREDIT: Graphic by Dylan Petrohilos
“This can be directly traced back to the toxic political environment of fear around Muslims in America,” McCaw said. “[The figures] reflects an unprecedented number of attacks in houses of worship last year.”
Muslim-Americans are a highly-diverse group of people that span a myriad of ethnic groups and nationalities. Important issues to Muslim voters vary based on these demographics, though it is widely believe that a substantial segment held conservative social and economic beliefs.
“George W. Bush made Muslim outreach a priority [in 2000], and he did well with the bloc,” David A. Graham wrote in the Atlantic, Monday. “But following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Muslim vote has swung strongly toward Democrats, driven by opposition to wars in the Middle East and concerns about civil liberties and Islamophobia stateside.”
That shift continued in the last two years. In 2014, 51 percent of Muslims surveyed told CAIR that they support the Democrat party, compared to just 15 percent who identified as Republican. In 2016 though, the percentage of Democrats jumped to 67 percent while the figure for Republicans stayed the same.
CREDIT: Graphic by Dylan Petrohilos
“I think that Muslims are a key constituency in swing states like Florida, Virginia, and Ohio and anti-Muslim narratives…could lose the general election,” McCaw said. “The community has been able to tip elections in the past and I think they can again.”
Ahmed agreed that American Muslims could be influential in the upcoming election and said the RMC invited Trump to a campaign event. “I’m hoping we will hear from a lot of GOP candidates and I hope to see him [Trump] at mosques in key electoral states,” she said.