Analysis of Muslim bloc vote
American Muslims demonstrate unity, influence with historic bloc vote
By Paul Findley
George W. Bush should thank Florida Muslims for opening his way to the White House. Responding to a national campaign, they discarded normal Democratic Party allegiance and voted as a block for the Republican from Texas, providing him with a statewide net gain in Florida of more than 64,000 Muslim votes.
Had they not voted as a bloc, Vice President Al Gore would have emerged as the clear winner shortly after the polls closed on Nov. 7 (2000). There would have been no recounts, no long, divisive wrangling in state and federal courts. Even with dimpled ballots left uncounted, Gore's Florida total would have substantially topped the Texas governor's, giving the vice president the majority of the nation's electoral votes and quick certification as president-elect.
A June poll showed a slight national Muslim preference for Gore, but an intensive campaign that began on Sept. 3 transformed Muslim sympathies into a nine-to-one landslide for Bush when votes were counted. In Florida, the state that proved pivotal in the ultimate certification of the president-elect, Bush's Muslim margin was even greater.
The importance of Muslim bloc voting arises from its magnitude as well as its focus. Best estimates put the national Muslim population at seven million, 70 as the percentage of those eligible to vote, and 65 as the percentage of those eligible who actually voted. This means that the national turnout of Muslims on Nov.7 came to 3.2 million.
According to an exit poll of 1,774 Muslims, 72 percent voted for Bush and 8 per cent for Gore. This means an estimated 2.3 million Muslims voted for Bush and only 2576,000 voted for Gore, a national net gain for Bush in excess of two million.
The Muslim impact in Florida was even more impressive. Accepting the assumptions used in the national analysis and 200,000 as the Muslim population in Florida, 140,000 Muslims were eligible and 91,000 actually voted. If 80 percent - a conservative estimate - supported Bush, this means he received 72,000 Muslim votes. If 8 percent - a generous estimate - voted for Gore, his total vote came to 7,238. In Florida, the net Muslim vote for Bush topped 64,000. Of the total Muslim vote, 26,000 were from first-time voters. The national exit poll of Muslims showed that 36 percent cast ballots for the first time.
A December 1999 survey of Muslim voters showed only 25 percent for Bush.
Muslims entered the presidential arena in earnest because they were troubled by challenges to their civil rights at home and to their interests in the Holy Land - especially Jerusalem. They responded to these issues rather than to party or personality. Early in the year, polls showed the Democratic Party more popular among Muslims than the Republican Party. Their hearts, however, belonged to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, who condemned Israel for excessive force against Palestinian protesters and was the first Arab American to run for President.
Although sympathetic to a number of Gore's domestic positions, Muslims were upset over his attachment to Israel, particularly his unequivocal acceptance of Jerusalem as its exclusive capital, and what they perceived as his lack of concern for the plight of Palestinians. Muslims see Israel's control of East Jerusalem as a continuing threat to Haram al-Sharif, one of Islam's holiest shrines.
On election day, Muslims pinned their hopes for improved Middle East policies on Bush and were pleased when he promised to halt the use of secret evidence in deportation hearings, a policy Muslims considered especially offensive because they viewed it as directed mainly at their community.
The most important factor that led Muslims to vote as a bloc for Bush was the unity and perseverance of the leaders of four principal public policy organizations: the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the American Muslim Council (AMC), and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). In participating, two of the leaders - Dr. Agha Saeed, founder and chairman of AMA and the chief enginer of Muslim bloc voting, and Salman Al Marayati, national director of MPAC - departed from their customary allegiance to the Democratic Party. CAIR was represented by Oman Ahmad and Nihad Awad and AMC by Yahya Basha, M.D.
Banding together at the American Muslim Political Coordination Council (AMPACC), they organized voter-education and registration drives early in the spring primary campaigns. In the late spring and summer of 2000, they sponsored workshops in major cities for candidates campaign volunteers and prospective voters.
Over Labor Day weekend at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, they won enthusiastic support for bloc voting for president from an audience of more than 10,000 Muslims. Hoping for personal interviews with both Bush and Gore, they delayed their recommendation for president until two weeks before Election Day.
One Met, The Other Didn't
Their decision followed an interview with Bush in Detroit on Oct. 5, during which he promised to listen to their policy concerns. Gore canceled a scheduled interview. News of their endorsement was circulated through e-mails, notices in mosques and Islamic centers, and sermons by imams during congregational prayers on the Friday before the election.
In supporting Bush, many Muslims followed the example of Saeed and Al Marayati by departing from traditional party leanings. In June, a CAIR survey of Muslims in 37 states showed that 31 percent believed the Democratic Party best represented their interests. Only 17 percent favored the Republican Patty. Forty-three percent said they were either undecided or believed that neither major party was addressing their basic Muslim interests.
Bush started from a low point in his 11-month climb to a Muslim landslide. A series of national surveys conducted by CAIR's director of research, Dr. Mohamed Nimer, marked his progress. In December 1999, the eve of the 2000 primary elections, a survey of 734 eligible Muslim voters showed only 25 percent for Bush. Fifteen percent favored Democrat Bill Bradley and 15 percent were in Gore's corner. When Bradley dropped out as a candidate four months later, most of his Muslim support went to Gore. In June, a poll of 755 Muslims showed 33 percent of Gore, with Bush up slightly at 28 percent.
In the final eight weeks of the campaign, Muslim support for Bush nearly doubled. A September survey of 1,022 eligible voters showed a 12 percent increase for the Texas governor; 40 percent for Bush, 25 percent Nader and 24 percent Gore. On Election Day, most of Nader and Gore votes moved to Bush.
Bloc voting marks the arrival of Muslims as a new, national political power, but it was little noted until the votes were counted. During the presidential campaign Muslims were largely ignored by Gore, and, despite their near-unanimous turnout for Bush, they received relatively little attention during the Texas governor's quest for votes.
He made only one public statement that bestirred Muslims - his criticism of secret evidence - but it may have been enough to win him many votes, especially in Florida. The controversy had long been a raging, much-publicized issue among Muslims nationally, but nowhere else with as much intensity as in Florida. The reason for this focus was the plight of Dr. Mazen Al Najjar, a Muslim Palestinian on the faculty of the University of South Florida, who had been locked up in a Bradenton jail for three and one-half years. In proceedings before a US Immigration Court, evidence that he was not allowed to see was sufficient to convince the judge that he was guilty of supporting terrorist organizations in the Middle East. Al Najjar denied the allegation, and his attorneys protested vainly that the secret policy effectively denied him due process. He was charged with holding a lapsed student visa and held without bond while he fought against deportation. He finally was released on bond in mid-December.
As political leaders study the 2000 election returns, they should gain a more accurate appreciation of America's Muslim community and, accordingly, make changes in their tactics in future campaigning for most offices, not just the presidency. During the year, 700 Muslims were candidates for offices ranging from convention delegate and precincts committeemen to membership in state legislatures. The list includes both Republicans and Democrats. One hundred and fifty-two including a state senate candidate and two candidates for state representative, were victorious.
After analyzing Muslim voting, Agha Saeed declared, "In this year's election, US Muslims crossed the political Rubicon."
Mr. Paul Findley served from 1981-1983 as a U.S. Representative from Illinois. He is the author of the best seller, "They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby." His book, "Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam," was published in 2001 by Amana Publications. Mr. Findley resides in Jacksonville, Illinois.
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs – January/February 2001