Islamists have been successful in the U.S. of laying claim to the “Muslim voice,” garnering attention in the media and government in an effort to push through their agenda. It is with this backdrop that we look at an interesting finding of the voting patterns of the 2020 presidential election, particularly in regard to the diversity of the American Muslim community.
An Associated Press VoteCast survey, which monitored the U.S. electorate over several days before November 3 until the polls closed, showed that Muslim voters more than doubled their support for President Trump from 2016.
According to the AP, 35 percent of Muslim voters supported Trump in 2020. In 2017, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), an organization that provides research and education about American Muslims, reported that only 15 percent of Muslims supported Trump in 2016 (54 percent supported Hillary Clinton and 30 percent supported neither candidate).
— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) November 5, 2020
In addition, an October ISPU poll showed that President Trump’s approval rating among Muslims steadily increased during his presidency — from 13 percent in 2018 to 16 percent in 2019 to 30 percent in 2020.
Muslims make up roughly 1 percent of the U.S. population, which translates to about 1.1 million potential voters. However, even though the 2016 ISPU report found that although 41 percent of Muslims report being satisfied with the country’s trajectory at the time, 61 percent reported that they most likely would not vote. At present, it is unknown what percentage of Muslims voted in 2020.
Speaking with Middle East Eye, Erum Ikramullah, a research project manager at ISPU, said:
“American Muslims, like other religious groups in America, are not a monolith. What our data support is that Muslims, like the general public, are not guided by their religiosity, but by their political views and opinions.”
In their 2017 survey, ISPU reported on that diversity as follows:
“Compared with other faith communities and the non-affiliated in our study, American Muslims are the youngest, with more than one-third younger than 30 years of age. American Muslims are the most ethnically and racially diverse faith group with no single background garnering a majority. Half of Muslims were born in the United States; thus, immigration continues to be a significant part of the American Muslim story. “
Director of the Clarion Intelligence Network Ryan Mauro enumerated at least six reasons for Trump’s surprising share of the 2020 Muslim vote:
- Trump was tougher on Iran than the Obama-Biden administration, the latter of which was responsible for pushing through the faulty Iran nuclear deal and shipping off $1.7 billion in cash to Iran, the largest state sponsor of terrorism. Presumably, Trump’s Iran policy would be favorable to both Iranian-Americans and (Sunni) Arab-Americans, as both groups bitterly oppose the Iranian regime.
- The Trump administration conducted airstrikes on Syria after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical warfare against his own population. The Obama-Biden administration had threatened such reprisals if Assad used chemical weapons on civilians, but when it happened, they backed off and failed to act.
- Trump made alliances with Saudi Arabia and was friendly to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a popular figure among many Saudi-Americans.
- Trump took a verbal stand against Islamism, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, which garnered him support among the many non-Islamist Muslims. This sentiment has been continually “missed by the media because outlets rely on ‘mainstream’ Muslim organizations that actually don’t have much popular political support from Muslim-Americans,” Mauro says.
- Backlash from demonizing Trump and the Republican Party. Mauro says that by making it sound like Trump would wage a war on innocent Muslims (i.e., “Muslim ban”), the disconnect from reality ended up decreasing the credibility of Trump’s detractors.
- Although anecdotal, Mauro says that in his talks with Muslims from immigrant families, it appeared that the narrative of an “outsider” fighting for the people against the elites in the “deep state” of the government resonated with them.
In Clarion Project’s direct conversations with American Muslims in the 50-plus age bracket, national security seemed to play a significant role in how this demographic voted. (Overall, for those Americans who told the AP that foreign policy was the most important issue facing the country, 72 percent reported voting for Trump.)
In addition, first-generation Muslim immigrant voters reported respecting Trump’s strength and straight-forwardness when dealing with leaders and political issues within the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region. Trump’s ability to deliver on peace in the Middle East was also a driver for these Muslims.