by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN for ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 5, 2012:
“What we had was a huge demographic victory, not quite an ideological victory,” said John Zogby to an Islamic studies and public policy audience at Duke University, a week after the re-election of President Barack Obama.
Zogby, Senior Analyst with the polling firm JZ Analytics, had been invited to answer the post-election question, “Did Minorities Matter?” In a wide-ranging lecture and Q & A session on November 14, he discussed the impact and importance of votes by Latinos, African Americans, Whites, youth (“first globals” born between 1979-1994), the creative/knowledge class, women, and religious groups.
For Zogby’s extensive post-election analysis read his Forbes article, and watch the Duke lecture:
While deciding factors like the Latino, African American, women, and youth votes (not to mention the declining number of white votes) have received much post-election attention in media and policy circles, Zogby’s audience was reminded not to discount the importance of Muslim American vote — especially in an era of such tight races. (See Also: The Muslim American Vote: A Lost Opportunity for the Right?)
Numbering between 3 and 6 million, Muslim Americans are a small portion of the population, but Zogby explained that “they are strategically located” in swing states. “All of these (swing) states were close,” he said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Executive Director Nihad Awad recently echoed this view. ”Muslim voters in swing states such as Florida, Virginia and Ohio seemed to have played a critical role in tipping the balance in the president’s re-election victory.”
In 2000, a plurality of Muslim Americans had supported George W. Bush. Then in a 2004 pre-election survey, Georgetown’s Muslims in the American Public Square (MAPS) project and Zogby International discovered that “a sea change in political alignment and outlook” had occurred since 9/11. They found that 76% said they’d support Sen. John Kerry compared to 7% for Bush.(Muslims in the American Public Square: Shifting Political Winds and Fallout from 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq) This shift, Zogby (then President and CEO of Zogby International) noted in his lecture, was largely due to the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act.
In 2008, Muslim Americans voted overwhelmingly for Obama, in part due to disappointment with U.S. foreign policy and domestic surveillance policy. According to a 2008 CAIR survey, 89% of Muslim Americans voted for Obama, and 2% for Republican candidate John McCain.
An exit poll by CAIR of 650 Muslim American voters immediately following the 2012 election, found that 85.7% had picked Obama, with 4.4% voting for Romney and just over two percent each for the Libertarian and Green party candidates. More than 4% declined to say whom they voted for.
An Opening for the GOP?
The most important issues for Muslim Americans basically mirror the wider population in the U.S., Zogby said. Numerous studies, including by Duke University Associate Professor of Sociology and Global Health Jen’nan Read and by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, bear that out.
Jobs and the economy, education, health care policy, Medicare and Social Security, and civil rights are their top issues of concern, according to a survey taken of 500 Muslim American voters by CAIR just previous to the 2012 national election.
Zogby believes there is, therefore, an opening for the political right. Like many Latinos, many Muslim Americans hold conservative values, he said, and there are small business people who lean conservative on fiscal issues.
The 2012 CAIR exit poll put the number of self-identified Muslim American Democrats at just 41.5 percent, with 40.6 percent considering themselves politically independent, and 7.4 percent saying they are Republican.
The Foreign Policy Divide
“(This group) is very mainstream, except on foreign policy… and that’s what’s different, ” Zogby said. “There are groups that have a real problem with America as empire… and groups that have a real problem with Israel.”
Zogby recounted how back in 2005-2006, he had been hired by various branches of the U.S. military that were looking for Arabic speakers for combat roles. He was charged with assembling focus groups of Muslim Americans, in particular Arab Americans, to gauge their interest in combat opportunities.
“It was very interesting because on one end, there were young people who said ‘yes, I’ll go into combat, but not to kill, but to help’. ‘If can prevent an accidental death simply because I’ve got a unique skill that won’t wait I’ll consider that’. So that was one part of the answer. Then Abu Ghraib happened and honest to God I couldn’t finish scheduling focus groups. I couldn’t get anybody to go.”
Zogby expects the number of voters in the general population who believe in American exceptionalism (many of whom are Republican) to decline.
“When we ask foreign policy questions, voters who are 50 and older and over 65, those are people who subscribe to American exceptionalism, i.e. ‘We are the vital nation. We’re the superpower. American self-interest trumps all’,” Zogby said.
Meanwhile, America’s young first global citizens (“first globals”) — the majority of whom voted to re-elect Obama (though in lesser numbers this time around) — tend not to be of that mindset.
Muslim Americans and Domestic Policy
Duke’s Jen’nan Read, who organized the fall “Citizens, Democracy, Elections” series for which Zogby gave the final lecture, pointed out that some “first globals” include young Muslim Americans who aren’t necessarily enamored of Obama’s policies on the domestic front.
“Increasingly Muslims are U.S. born,” she said, and “they are disenchanted with domestic policy both towards Muslim Americans and economic policy.”
“We call it the Muslim vote, but is there such a thing?” Read wondered aloud in her concluding question to Zogby, “And will there be one?”
“There will be a Muslim influence vote,” Zogby responded.
Now, what either party is willing to do to secure those votes — in terms of domestic and foreign policies and community outreach — remains to be seen.
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