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American Muslims will be an important voting bloc in the 2012 presidential election, but some politicians have been hesitant to reach out to the community for fear of a backlash, said Corey Saylor, spokesman for the Council of Islamic-American Relations.
“People want us to be a part of their movements but sort of toward the edge of stage,” Saylor said. “Often times what we see is that if someone is getting close to the Muslim community, they get attacked for being weak on national security.”
Muslims want to participate in the political process, and they’re paying attention to domestic and foreign events, according to a report released last month by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington.
The report recommends that politicians engage Muslim Americans because they could play key roles in the upcoming election, especially in key swing states like Florida and Michigan.
The U.S. census didn't ask about religious affiliation, so estimates regarding the size of Muslim communities living in Michigan and Florida are imprecise. But as minority voters become increasingly important in elections, Muslim political importance increases too, the report says.
“Because of numbers in Ohio, Florida, Northern Virginia, that’s going to make it a community whose concerns are a little more important to pay attention to this election cycle,” Saylor said.
In 2010, the Pew Research Center estimated that nearly 2.6 million Muslims lived in the United States, representing less than 1 percent of the population. By 2030, the number of Muslims living in the U.S. is expected to more than double, according to the Pew Research Center.
“It’s clear that they’re going to continue to grow and become a bigger piece of the electoral puzzle,” said Aimee Chiu of the American Islamic Congress. “It would be great to start looking at understanding the constituency.”
Policy decisions like the USA Patriot Act and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed the 9/11 attacks that caused American Muslims to abandon the Republican Party after supporting George W. Bush in the 2000 election, the report said.
Between 2001 and 2004, the percentage of American Muslims dissatisfied with the country’s direction increased from less than 40 percent to more than 60, according to the report. In 2008, 89 percent of Muslims who voted supported Barack Obama. In 2011, more than three quarters of Muslims approved of Obama’s performance, the report said.
But Muslim support for Democrats isn’t a sure thing. Forty percent of Muslims identified as independent in 2004, according to the report.
The Muslim population in the U.S. is very diverse, said Aimee Chiu of the American Islamic Congress. Muslims care about what’s going on abroad, but they also care about a wide variety of issues, she said.
Muslims are interested in domestic issues like the economy, health care, and civil liberties, Saylor said. Either party could cultivate support among Muslims if they engage with the community and address issues that they’re concerned about, the report said.
Meanwhile, American Muslims can work to show campaigns that engaging with the community is vital to winning elections, Saylor said.
“The people who organize the best and deliver, they’re more likely to get their issues listened to,” he said.