Right after the 2000 election, GOP strategist Grover Norquist told the American Spectator that “Bush was elected president of the United States of America because of the Muslim vote.” At the time, record Muslim American voting proved pivotal in the tight 2000 election year. This election year the Joe Biden campaign is seeking the Muslim vote, but if they continue to count on fear of President Donald Trump instead of policy promises to get it, they will likely not get enough Muslim votes to make a difference.
While Muslim Americans are not a significant number statistically at 1.1 percent of the U.S. population, their population centers are in many swing states, including Florida, Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas and Pennsylvania. The 2000 election was decided by 537 Florida votes and ultimately by one vote in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Bush v. Gore.
In 2000, Muslims overwhelmingly voted for George Bush. In Florida alone, Bush received roughly 14,000 more Muslim votes than Gore. In other words, Bush received more than 70 percent of the Muslim vote in Florida even though the majority of Muslims were Democrats.
Muslim-American citizens overwhelmingly voted for Bush in 2000 for two reasons: His campaign made efforts to engage Muslim communities (while Al Gore’s campaign would not), and he made a campaign promise to end the use of secret evidence in courts. In the second televised debate, Bush promised to repeal the Secret Evidence Act, which was enacted during the Clinton administration, and used almost exclusively against Muslims and Arabs. The Muslim bloc vote in 2000 illustrated that in tight races small communities can play an out-sized role.
This election cycle, the Democratic Party is simply relying on the fear of a second Trump term to mobilize voters. This tactic is misguided. Constituencies are motivated not by fear, but by issues and policies that matter. The Democratic Party is wrongly focusing on convincing Trump voters to vote for Biden and ignoring historically disenfranchised voters. Instead, the solution is to expand the electorate.
Ignoring progressive voters, who are politically motivated, is playing with fire. Uninterested and dejected by the current Democratic Party’s platform, these are votes left on the table. Failing to mobilize Muslim constituencies as well as the youth and working-class communities is foolish. While Democrats are engaging Muslims as a part of the political calculus to beat Trump, we are still being treated like political cyanide when we push our policy issues, from domestic surveillance to endless wars.
Muslims for Biden was formed as a means of engaging Muslim Americans. Journalist Dean Obeidallah said in the Daily Beast, “This November’s election is unlike any other for the Muslim community. It’s not political, it’s personal. Trump has used us as red meat for the bigots of his base, which in turn inspired countless hate crimes against our community.”
Some questioned if the Biden campaign could carry the concerns of the Muslim community or if they would maintain the same reticence for Muslim issues as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton had done in elections past. Last month, Biden met with Muslims through a virtual meeting, which was the first time for the presumed presidential candidate to do so. Yet the Muslim American polity requires more than face time for activating voter mobilization; it also needs policy engagement.
We are shocked by the number of people who say they will sit out the election or vote for the Green Party. But we don’t blame them. We blame it on the failure of the Democratic Party to seize momentum among these key constituencies.
The same way the recent Great Awokening led to leftward stances on immigration, criminal justice and reparations on account of white liberals changing their minds rather rapidly, Muslim American concerns on surveillance, security and foreign policy have gained more widespread interest. The key is not that the Muslim American electorate has grown in sufficient numbers, but that they have organized just enough to gain a broader audience.
Muslim Americans have become increasingly more vocal on concerns ranging from drone strikes to military aid, mass incarceration and immigration reform. Muslim Americans have grown weary of being left out in the cold of presidential politics. Democrats should not miss this opportunity in 2020.
Nadia B. Ahmad is an associate professor at Barry University School of Law. She is a 2020 Democratic National Committee national delegate for Florida Congressional District 7 and co-founder of Muslim Delegates and Allies Coalition. Ahmed Bedier is the founder of United Voices for America, a civic engagement organization working to bring people of color and Muslims to politics, and a radio show host on WMNF 88.5-FM. He served as 2016 DNC National Delegate for Florida Congressional District 15.