The day before the election Jamal Dajani, producer of the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV, wrote at The Huffington Post that the “Muslim vote has been overlooked,” but he was confident that American Muslims would be “voting en masse for Barack Obama.” Other commentators, such as Abdus Sattar Ghazali of American Muslim Perspective, made similar predictions. In fact, two oft-cited polls of American Muslims—from the Pew Research Center and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)—suggested that a sizable percentage of American Muslims would be voting Democrat.
The high level of expected support for Obama among Muslim Americans was also based on the unprecedented mobilization effort by organizations like CAIR, which called on Muslim voters to “turn out in large numbers at the polls on November 4th as a positive response to Islamophobic bias and stereotyping in political campaigns.”
Nicole Neroulias of Religion News Service reports that high turnout among Muslims in swing states can be attributed to registration drives held by the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, which drew on the organizational resources of the community:
“We used Friday prayer, religious holidays, gatherings and conventions to register Muslims,” said Imam Mahdi Bray, MAS Freedom executive director. “In Virginia (on Election Day), we had 30 taxi drivers who did nothing but take people to the polls all day.”
In spite of these efforts, Lorraine Ali of Newsweek reports:
Many Muslims kept their presidential preference a secret in the months leading up to Super Tuesday, fearing that an endorsement from them might in fact work against Obama. After all, this was an election year in which the word “Muslim” was used as shorthand to connote anti-American leanings and a hidden love of terrorism.
Still, once the votes were tallied—and despite the fact that the American Muslim community has traditionally leaned Republican—post-election analysis reveals that Muslims voted overwhelmingly in favor of President-elect Barack Obama:
The American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections released a poll today of over 600 Muslims from more than 10 states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, and it revealed that 89 percent of respondents voted for Obama, while only 2 percent voted for McCain. It also indicated that 95 percent of Muslims polled cast a ballot in this year’s presidential election—the highest turnout in a U.S. election ever—and 14 percent of those were first-time voters. The Gallup Center for Muslim studies estimates that U.S. Muslims favored Obama in greater numbers than did Hispanics (67 percent of whom voted for Obama) and nearly matched that of African-Americans, 93 percent of whom voted for Obama.
Since the election, analysts have scrambled to understand the source of Muslims’ overwhelming support for the Democratic candidate, particularly in light of their reported “mixture of delight and frustration” at the Obama campaign’s treatment of Muslim voters. Sociologist Jen’nan Ghazal Read, author of an article about “Muslims in America” in the Fall 2008 issue of Contexts Magazine, describes to the New York Times the “sense of resignation many Muslims felt at how the pejorative use of the word ‘Muslim’ went unchallenged during most of the campaign.”
Still, it appears that the Muslim community saw in Obama the same message of hope that many other Americans saw. According to one Muslim student interviewed by the New York Times:
The election proved that the promise of America is real, that the only barrier to participation is one’s own inertia and that “now is the time for us to step up,” said Haseeb Chowdhry, a senior at the university’s Stern School of Business.
“We love this country. This country has an ability to change—that is its strength,” he said.
Others have suggested that high Muslim turnout for Obama was the result of backlash. Manya A. Brachear of the Chicago Tribune argues that Obama’s victory “defied an ‘Osama effect’—opposition efforts to sway voters by connecting Obama to radical Islam.” These efforts included the circulation of 20 million copies of a film called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” which observers have argued was a key source of mobilization among Muslim Americans, and of their support for Obama.
Alan Colmes at Liberaland suggests those who attempted to use the “Muslim” label as an anti-Obama smear may have overplayed their hand:
As it turns out, anti-Muslim smears against Barack Obama energized Muslim voters. Muslim-Americans were angered by whispers about anti-American extremism and false charges that he is a Muslim; and they were encouraged by Colin Powell’s “not that there’s anything wrong with that” message.
Many cited Powell’s comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press” as a “‘watershed’ moment” for Muslim-Americans. Ahmed Younis of Gallup Center for Muslim Studies remarked, “for U.S. Muslims Powell’s comment capped a decades-long search ‘to become part and parcel of the nation.'”
The election itself may prove a watershed moment in American history as well: Younis notes elsewhere that “the white, male majority did not vote for the winner. Instead, Obama was elected by a coalition of Americans as diverse as the nation itself but who share a set of common ideals.”
Voting patterns of Muslim Americans have been overlooked in the past, but evidence suggests this group may be a significant component of a new Democratic coalition. Their role in the 2008 election is certain to be explored further as more data becomes available.
[Thanks to Jen’nan Ghazal Read for contributing to this roundup.—ed.]