Those seeking the White House in 2008 may want to take note of an increasingly active and growing group of voters – American Muslims.
Muslims are now viewed as potential swing-voters in key battleground states such as Florida, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
For example, more than 60 Muslim get-out-the-vote volunteers in an Ohio election center called 25,000 phone numbers of registered Muslim voters in that state in the two weeks preceding the 2004 election.
In 2006, more than 1,000 new Muslim voters were registered in a single Illinois congressional district. Some 200 Muslim volunteers then turned out to knock on doors, make phone calls and participate in Election Day poll watching in that district.
Political confidence of the estimated 7 million Muslims in the United States also received a tremendous boost in 2004 with the election of Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim in Congress.
But despite growing numbers and increased political activism, the American Muslim community is relatively new to presidential politics. Efforts to form a Muslim voting bloc began only within the past decade.
In the 2000 election, an Islamic political action coalition encouraged Muslims to vote for then-candidate George W. Bush – in part because of his public stand against the use of secret evidence in the nation’s courts.
In 2004, Muslims concerned about the erosion of civil rights in the post-9/11 era were urged to vote for Sen. John Kerry.
Past surveys indicate Muslim voters are religiously diverse, well integrated in American society, politically active and support candidates of any party who address their concerns. The vast majority of eligible Muslim voters say they participate in every election.
Domestic issues listed as most important by American Muslim voters include education, civil rights, health care and the economy. Most say that American policy in the Middle East is the most important international issue.
In this election cycle, Muslims still are evaluating the field of candidates. A soon-to-be-released survey by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations indicates that almost half of Muslim voters remain undecided about their choice for president.
That survey also shows that Muslim voters believe anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is a serious problem, one that can only benefit from the unique perspective and input of American Muslims.
To help Muslims play a more effective role in state and national elections, CAIR recently launched a Web site that provides the latest news and opinions relating to Muslims and elections nationwide.
The CAIR 2008 Elections site contains positions of the presidential candidates on key issues, examples of anti-Muslim rhetoric from candidates for all levels of public office and links to Web sites of Muslims running for public office.
CAIR also has published a new Civic Participation Handbook that provides Muslim voters with best practices and step-by-step guides for everything from holding voter registration drives to making the most of a meeting with elected officials.
In the run-up to the November elections, CAIR and other American Muslim institutions have committed to help promote bipartisan political activism through town hall meetings with candidates, voter registration drives, voter guides and get-out-the-vote drives on Election Day.
It should be clear to any candidate that American Muslims are a key group of voters who defy simplistic labeling and maintain an independent streak that should be taken into account by all those running for public office.
Ibrahim Hooper is strategic communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties group. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org