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Brooke Anderson

Why some American Muslims are choosing to vote Republican in the 2020 US election

A growing number of American Muslims support the Republican Party compared to 2018 [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 November, 2020

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In-depth: Small but growing support for Trump among America's Muslims shows that the Democratic Party takes the Muslim vote for granted at its own peril.
Why would Muslims continue to vote Republican? It's a question that has puzzled pollsters for years.

For the majority of Muslim-American voters, the Republican Party – which led the war in Iraq, instituted the Muslim travel ban, and relocated the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem – does not represent them.

However, a growing and significant minority of nearly 20 percent (up from 17 percent in 2018 to 18.7 percent for this election, per a September survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations), it is their party. 

Maissa Kabbani is an example of this shift. After voting Democrat in every election since immigrating to the United States in 1989, she will be voting Republican for the first time in her life in 2020.  

"I used to vote for Democrat. But this year my vote is going to be for President Trump… The claim that he doesn't like Arabs or Muslims is invalid for me, because he saved many lives of Arabs and Muslims when he stopped the Assad regime from bombing Idlib," she tells The New Arab. 

"He is tough on the Iranian regime, which has destroyed the whole Middle East, including Syria. President Trump promised to make America great again, and he needs another four more years to finish his mission," she says proudly in a video testimonial filmed in the seat of her car. This is a marked shift from four years ago. 

"To be honest, I cried the morning after the election. We were all shocked," she recalls of Trump's upset victory in 2016.

By no means representing the majority of American Muslims, Republican voters still make up nearly 19 percent of this group, and therefore cannot be ignored

For her, it has been his policies that made her change parties: his departure from the Iran deal, his hardline stance on China, and possibly the most resonating for Syrians: his air strikes on Syrian regime military installations, starting on 6 April 2017 in the province of Homs, suspected as being used as a base for chemical attacks two days earlier.  

"We saw the difference between his and Obama's time," she says of Trump's first term. "He loves America." 

She's not bothered by what many in her community see as clearly negative points. She sees his Muslim travel ban as an understandable precaution to protect America against terrorism. As for his divisive rhetoric, she says she pays attention to his policies and not his words, excusing his harsh words as someone who didn't come up through the traditional political establishment.

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She's not even deterred by how her political switch has affected her relationship with her children, former Bernie Sanders supporters who now back Joe Biden due to the Democratic Party's stances on racism, student loans and corporate taxation.   

"I'm outspoken, even in front of my kids. Sometimes they laugh, and say: are you kidding me? I say I'm voting for Trump. They've given up," she says.  

Kabbani says she has many friends like her, and she'll continue to speak out. 

Emad Bozou, also a longtime US resident from Syria, says he has always voted Republican, with the exception of voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, because he considered her a moderate, in part due to her criticism of Obama's policy in Syria. Even back in Syria, he says he supported the Republican Party.  

"I preferred Reagan, Bush Senior and Junior. They remove dictators from power," says Bozou.  

As many Muslims are fiscally conservative as they are socially liberal. Their votes can easily be taken away with the right conservative candidate

"Our revolution started when Obama was in power. He didn't do anything to help the Syrian people. His priority was to make the Iran nuclear deal," he says.  

While by no means representing the majority of American Muslims, Republican voters still make up nearly 19 percent of this group and they cannot be ignored. 

"Even if Trump gets 45 percent, these voters need to be acknowledged," he says. 

Robert McCaw, who conducted the September survey for CAIR, is not surprised by these perspectives from a demographic that is committed to voting, with 89.2 percent of Muslim voters surveyed saying that they intend to vote in this year's presidential election.  

Explainer: Why is the Arab American vote so important in the 2020 US election?

In fact, he thinks that Democrats should be listening to Muslim Republicans, so that they don't take their votes for granted. But this might already be happening, as the survey found that the percentage of registered Muslim voters who most closely identify with the Democratic Party had decreased from CAIR's previous poll in 2018, from 78 percent to 66.4 percent today."  

Another survey of Muslim voters, done in March by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, found similar trends of Muslims increasingly viewing the Republican Party more favourably. It found that approval of Trump's job performance increased from 13 percent in 2018 and 16 percent in 2019 to 30 percent in 2020 (in contrast to the general public: 35 percent in 2018 and 39 percent in 2019 and 2020).  

It is unclear how the Republican Party, with anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies as part of its key appeal to its base, would become more inclusive with this community

"We're urging candidates running for office to better understand Muslim voters by analysing surveys like these. Democrats poll better on civil rights. But there are other issue areas they could work on," says McCaw.  

On the other hand, because many of the Muslims surveyed tend to be fiscal conservatives, he believes the Republican Party has the potential to attract more Muslims with more socially inclusive policies. This breakdown, McCaw points out, is not unlike those of other minority communities – a majority of whom align themselves with the Democratic Party due to social issues, with a significant minority supporting the other side due to economics and sometimes foreign policy.

"It's really important to not just say Muslims vote Democrat. In polling, as many Muslims are fiscally conservative as they are socially liberal. Their votes can easily be taken away with the right conservative candidate. Should Republicans be more welcoming, more will vote Republican," says McCaw. 

It is unclear how the Republican Party, with anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies as part of its key appeal to its base, would become more inclusive with this community. What is clear is that Muslim voters have become a significant enough demographic that parties ignore them at their own peril. 

As the CAIR study puts it, "The interconnectedness of the American Muslim community and its more than one million registered voters makes Muslims a strong and increasingly critical voice in American politics." 

Brooke Anderson is a freelance journalist covering international politics, business and culture

Follow her on Twitter: @Brookethenews

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