What We Know About Muslim American Politics Before The 2020 Election

Looking back on the last year is a difficult thing to do — in part because it was such a difficult year for everyone. The coronavirus pandemic has shattered the financial security of millions of Americans, and not surprisingly minorities were the hardest hit. Going into the 2020 election, this was a major topic for Muslim Americans. But so was foreign policy. And it might be in this latter area where then-President Trump missed his last opportunity to win the election.

Literal social security has always been more important to minorities than the socialized program of the same name. We all want to feel safe in our own homes. We all want to make a living. We all want the opportunity for happiness. And we all want to feel like our voices are heard among the masses. But the reality for Muslim Americans and other minority members of society is that this type of social security is much more difficult to grasp.

Muslim Americans have always been an important part of American politics even though they only account for a paltry percentage point of the overall population. Hispanic Americans and African Americans are always cherished for their numbers (and the importance that comes with numbers, since winning is always a game of numbers), but Muslim voices sometimes echo even louder.

Take for example Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. They are Democrats, and their left-leaning politics did not go unnoticed by the right, which demonized both of them. And their Muslim American followers were strong supporters of then-candidate Bernie Sanders. They supported him with a 39 percent following. Before winning, Biden trailed in Muslim American support.

Why did they position themselves behind Bernie so overwhelmingly?

It comes down to foreign policy. Specifically, it comes down to foreign policy where ethnic backgrounds or home countries are concerned. Conversations about immigration are important, but national security interests conflict with Muslim Americans’ identity politics. We have the War on Terror to blame for that.

A Pew Research Center survey found that nearly 90 percent of American Muslims are proud to identify as both Americans and Muslims. And this is why foreign policy is so important: it affects both identities. 

The GOP’s core identity in the early 2000s was driven by both the War on Terror and attacks on civil liberties in the United States. Both of these politically motivated actions resulted in renewed Muslim support for progressive groups — which is likely why they found Bernie Sanders such a alluring candidate.

More interesting is the social dynamic. A 2019 Institute for Social Policy and Understanding poll found that “83 percent of Muslims aged 50 and older vote for Democrats in contrast with 44 percent of their generational peers in the general public.” This is a stark contrast to the rest of society, where younger people generally grasp onto progressive policies while older people are more “stuck in the past,” so to speak. 

Most likely, these paradigms will continue to make it more difficult for the GOP to obtain power — which is why they’re so desperate to restrict voting only to a chosen few.