Race and religion have been at the forefront of the election campaigns since the beginning. It all started back in 2008, when President Barack Obama became the first African-American (though he is also half Caucasian) president of the United States. This election year, Mitt Romney is also the first—the first Mormon candidate to make it to general elections. Ever since, discussions of white, black, Christian and Mormon—and even false rumors of Obama as Muslim–have continued to surface on the campaign trail.
But does the running candidates’ race and religion really play a significant role in the American voter decision-making process? Perhaps it does for some, but for others it means very little to nothing.
For the 3-7 million American Muslims, the nations most racially diverse religious group (according to a 2009 Gallup report), race and religion of the presidential candidate is an irrelevant vote factor. To them, the candidate’s personal views on other races and religions, especially Islam and/or Muslims in America and around the world, are far more significant. So it is not about what the American Muslim voter thinks of the candidates’ race or faith, rather it is what the candidates think of American Muslims and Islam that impacts the vote.
“A candidates religious proclivities are entirely their own and do not factor into my decision unless they show that their religion is an overt factor in how they will respond towards the country, foreign policy or individuals – in that case I shy away from candidates like this. And this would be the case even for a Muslim candidate”, says Alan Howard, 38, Caucasian American Muslim male who is an undecided voter.
The political views and affiliations of American Muslims appear as varied as their racial diversity.
“Followers of Islam are as nuanced as followers of Catholicism or Judaism. There are Republican Muslims and Democratic Muslims in America and I will defend their right to their choices, and know they will vote their consciences”, adds Howard.
A recent poll, conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), shows 25% of American Muslims as undecided voters, sixty-eight percent will vote to re-elect President Barack Obama and only seven percent will vote for Mitt Romney. The CAIR poll surveyed 500 American Muslim registered voters in October and has a five percent margin of error. CAIR has not revealed the name of the firm it used to conduct this survey.
Other findings in the poll show 49 percent of respondents favoring the Democratic Party as friendly towards Muslims, while 12 percent saying the Republican Party was friendly. Equally, 51 percent of respondents said that the Republican Party was unfriendly towards Muslims, while 6 percent said that the Democratic Party was unfriendly.
“It’s also important to have a president who would consider American Muslims an essential part of our great country and treat them equally, according to the law and the constitution,” says Gida Hammami, 27, American, Syrian and French citizen born female. Hammami is voting for Obama.
Some American Muslims are supporting the candidate who seems most inclusive of the Muslim community as an integral part of the American society. Additionally, they are concerned with the candidates’ approach in dealing with radical Muslims or terrorism and will use their judgment of each of the candidate’s views on this issue to make a voting decision.
“We want a president who knows how to differentiate between radical or extreme Islamic militants and the general Muslim population who is basically wishing for the same things as the average American: opportunity for better jobs/pay, good schools, stable economy, affordable health care, religious freedom, peace, safety, etc”, says Anna Alcantara, 32, Hispanic Muslim American female teacher and Obama supporter.
Umar Ghuman, a Pakistani-American Muslim male lobbyist and leader of the Muslims for Romney campaign, does not accept the CAIR poll results. Ghuman referrers to the survey as “a lie.” He claims, “Republicans always understood Muslims’ interests better.” Ghuman is voting for Romney.
According to Ghuman, the Muslims for Romney campaign has reached out to thousands of Muslims across the nation in battleground states campaigning for Romney, visiting mosques and recruiting Romney supporters. He says that most of the Imams of Mosques and Directors of Islamic organizations he spoke with will be voting for Romney. He explains this is due to the common conservative views he believes Romney shares with Muslims. Ghuman manages the Facebook group, Muslims for Romney, which has 342 likes.
The CAIR poll results show the top five issues of importance to American Muslim voters are jobs and the economy, education, health care policy, Medicare and Social Security.
“Muslims come from different financial backgrounds and most will vote for the candidate they feel will allow them to provide for their family”, says William Trimble, Jr., an African-American Muslim male US Military Contracting Leader.
Trimble has already voted for Obama by absentee ballot stating Obama’s economic policies “benefit everyone in the country, while Romney’s represented the conservative “Trickle Down” economics which will benefit mainly the rich.”
But, Ghuman strongly disagrees that Democrats have solutions for the economy, claiming, “Republicans always have a better economic plan.”
Ghuman’s Romney vote is primarily based on his personal conservative views on two issues, homosexuality and abortion. He favors Romney’s faith-factor values and more precisely his conservative views on homosexuality and abortion, adding they are reflective values shared amongst the three faith traditions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He adds that all Muslims should feel this way about these issues. Ghuman continues by asserting that, “Muslims on democrats bandwagon are disillusioned.”
American Muslims are unconcerned with the race or religion of running candidates, rather they wish to engage politically and connect with the candidate that caters best to their diversity. Nevertheless, their vote is torn between choosing Republican Romney’s conservative views, reflective of their religious values and supporting Democratic Obama, who they perceive as a more genuinely Muslim-friendly candidate.
Still, some decided American Muslim voters have made their decisions on additional factors other than just friendliness and conservatism.
“I am voting for him [Obama] because I believe that he genuinely cares about the improvement of our economy, welfare of lower and middle class citizens, the environment and education outside of friendliness and conservatism.” Rachel Hamid, 43, Caucasian American Muslim female.
As for the claimed 25% undecided American Muslim voters mentioned in the CAIR poll, some are voting libertarian and others are still deciding.
“I am writing Dr. Ron Paul on the ballot. His foreign policy has been a major deciding factor. A non interventionist policy is a sustainable pattern,” says Kaveh Manizad, Iranian-American Muslim.
“I am not a decided voter. I have found it hard this year to come to a final decision. I have researched all the candidates’ positions, including the Green Party and the Libertarian Party. I weigh carefully all the angles based on my ideological leanings and issues I consider important and will make a decision,” says Howard.
When asked if Romney will win the elections, Ghuman responds, “It’s hard to tell. Whether he [Romney] wins or not, Muslims will continue to support a conservative America with conservative values.”