Will American Muslims swing the US Presidential election? It seems highly unlikely, if not improbable, but that’s the line being pushed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a not uncontroversial lobby group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
A poll released by the group last week found that 68 per cent of American Muslims intend to vote for Obama. By contrast, only 7 per cent are committed to voting for Romney in next week’s election. That represents more than treble the number who voted for McCain in 2008 (when just 2.2 per cent of Muslims voted Republican) while the Democrat share of Muslim votes is down from just under 90 per cent in 2008.
The Washington Post suggests these figures should give the Republicans cause for celebration:
Muslim American support for President Obama shows signs of waning, which could be enough to affect the 2012 election in key swing states where a few thousand votes could have a big impact.
It is thought the decline in Muslim support for Obama could possibly tip the balance in key swing states such as Virginia, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Ohio.
Religion is a powerful dynamic in US electoral campaigns – far more so than in Europe – and Muslims have tended to back Republicans because of their shared social values. In 2000, for example, George Bush claimed 72 per cent of Muslim votes and was endorsed by four Muslim organisations although all this would change after 9/11.
The introduction of ‘anti-Shariah bills’ by Republicans, conservative rhetoric which cast Muslims as an insidious fifth column, and the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, prompted many American Muslims to prioritise confessional concerns at the ballot. In 2004 and 2008 they voted overwhelmingly in favour of Democratic candidates.
The CAIR poll suggests this might be changing. Much like their fellow citizens, American Muslims now rank the economy, jobs, education, and health care as their main concerns in this election. It is a world away from the traditional bugbears about U.S. foreign policy, suggesting the importance attached to confessional concerns is at its lowest point for Muslim voters since 9/11.
All this brings me back to my original question; will American Muslims tip the balance in favour of Romney? The 7 per cent who favour him might yet restore the Republicans to the White House – but because they are citizens, not Muslims.