How Muslim and Arab Americans "Rocked the Vote" in 2012

By Hanley, Delinda C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2013 | Go to article overview

How Muslim and Arab Americans "Rocked the Vote" in 2012


Hanley, Delinda C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


How many times did you hear about the big impact in key states of Latino and female voters on the 2012 elections? Or the black/white voting divide? There was little mention of Muslim- and Arab-American voters in this election-nor, come to think of it, Jewish voters, despite both parties' strident campaign rhetoric in support of Israel that was calculated to attract Jewish and Evangelical Christian votes.

According to national surveys in 2000, 72 to 78 percent of American Muslims voted for President George W. Bush because, as opposed to Democratic candidate Al Gore, Bush spoke out against racial profiling and the use of secret evidence in deportation hearings. In 2004, 93 percent of Muslims, many of them socially conservative, voted for the Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry, and only 1 percent for Bush, partly because the incumbent's "war on terrorism" looked very much like a war on Islam. In 2008, nearly 90 percent of Muslims voted for then-Sen. Barack Obama and only 2 percent for Sen. John McCain. By then Republican policies and rhetoric had grown even more anti-Muslim, and the community believed Obama would improve relations between America and the Islamic world and encourage tolerance at home.

In the 2012 presidential election, much like the close election in 2000, swing states and minority communities were the deciding factor. In fact, Arab-, Muslim- and South Asian-American voters made a big difference in both congressional elections and the re-election of President Obama in vital swing states. As usual, neither Democrats nor Republicans made much of an effort to court these constituents, but nonetheless, Muslim- and Arab-American organizers ensured their community's active involvement.

Arab and Muslim Americans used blogs, Twitter, YouTube and other social media to "rock the vote." Princeton University activist Zeba Iqbal, for example, led a social media campaign (#MuslimVOTE) to encourage Muslims in America to expand their influence. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Arab American Institute (AAI), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and other organizations worked hard to mobilize their communities to participate in the election. They conducted polls to determine the top issues of concern, and offered an issue-by-issue breakdown of President Obama's and Republican challenger Mitt Romney's positions. They invited candidates running for local, state and national offices to forums in mosques, community centers and college campuses.

The Muslim- and Arab-American communities organized debate-viewing parties, and feverishly registered new voters. They distributed get-out-the-vote posters and lawn signs to mosques, and called on religious leaders to use prayers marking the Eid Al-Adha holiday to urge eligible Muslims to vote.

Robert McCaw, government affairs coordinator for CAIR, and Nada El-Eryan, chapter president of ADC in the Washington, DC area, described their organizations' extensive national effort to conduct a get-out-the-vote phone bank. Volunteers called registered voters with Arab- or South Asian-sounding names in their own states, urging them to vote and offering a ride if needed. …

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