Viewpoint

Will Muslims, at center of election, vote?

Turk
Turk

There are only around 30,000 Muslims in North Carolina (around half of whom are in Charlotte), but given how central they are to the campaign – and how close the race might still be – their vote could be crucial.

There is certainly increased Muslim interest in this election. “Islam” has become a hot button issue, right up there with the economy and health care. However, with the Muslim vote likely to be split, it is unclear how significant the Muslim turnout will be.

Many American Muslim leaders are forced to remain neutral during campaigns because of electoral rules around non-profit organizations, including mosques. This means that there is not always a united Muslim vote.

This campaign is different from the past two election cycles as there does not appear to be a consensus champion for Muslim Americans: In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama succeeded in mobilizing mass support among many sections of the population, including America’s Muslims.

And with half the American Muslim population under the age of 35, many Muslim voters are coming of age in what many see as a post-truth climate in American politics. This may lead to more apathy and lower turnout, making their voting behavior difficult to predict.

Muslims can represent an important – and potentially powerful – swing vote. In 2000, George W. Bush won Florida with only 537 votes. Many Florida Muslims did not vote and several others voted for Ralph Nader, the third party candidate.

While many American Muslims have severe fears of what a Trump presidency would mean for them and their families, they are also uneasy about certain aspects of Clinton’s history.

On the other hand, many Muslims are reassured by her appointment of the first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities, and close relationship with Huma Abedin, her chief adviser. Trump supporters’ attacks on Abedin (often mentioning her Muslim heritage as a negative) may help to galvanize Muslim support for Hillary.

What does seem clear is that many North Carolina Muslims will be voting – like many Americans – not out of idealism, but purely in the pragmatic interests of their communities and their country. It remains to be seen whether enough unity can be created around a single candidate for a “Muslim lobby” to emerge in Washington (and North Carolina), to guarantee the community has a clear political voice in the future.

Jihad Turk is president of Bayan Claremont School of Theology in California.

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