Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Numbers of Islamophobia

Is there a political downside for the GOP for trading in Islamophobia?

The recent outbursts against a moderate Islamic center in New York City have crossed a qualitative line.  The somewhat coded Islamophobia of the Bush Administration has exploded into a full scale anti-Muslim campaign, with GOP heavyweights voicing opinions against building expressly moderate and modern Islamic centers and mosques.

Let's ground our instincts in some research.  GOP party identification was in a state of free fall between 2001 and 2007, as political scientists Matt Barreto and Dino Bozonelos report.  72% of American Muslims supported candidate Bush in the October of 2000, but that number had slipped to 7% in 2007.  Clearly the "War Against Islamic Extremism", the failures of the Bush administration to distinguish between loyal Americans and the enemy, and rampant discrimination damaged the Republican brand in muslim communities.

By 2008, 49% of American Muslims considered themselves Democrats; 8% reported a Republican affiliation, and 36% were independents.***

There is obviously very little room for Republican support to drop as a result of demonizing Muslims, but Democrats might be missing a big opportunity if they don't reach out to partner with local mosques to organize those voters.

Muslims who regularly attend religious services are not a highly concentrated constituency in any particular congressional district: Table at left is Dr. Shane Martin's (pdf) estimate of District-level concentration of practicing Muslims.  There are only twenty districts where there is predicted to be more than a marginal Muslim  presence in the electorate.

These communities are not decisive voting blocs in presidential-year elections, but if mobilized in an off-year, could provide a relatively large package of votes to Democrats who speak up for the values of openness and inclusion.

This estimate is also based on a survey which implies about 1.5 million practicing Muslims in America, so organizing these networks may have an outsized impact in mobilizing pockets of the other estimated 4.25 million American Muslims.

According to the estimates upon which the above table is based, NY-13 and VA-11 are the only competitive districts which have a muslim population > 2%. Both are lean Democratic with freshman representatives. The campaign managers in these districts might find that hiring an organizer to work exclusively with the Muslim community could pay off big in the hunt to get to 50%+1.

Even though other districts are not in play, candidates in NJ-08, CA-08, PA-02, PA-01, and NY-14 could use this opportunity to make fundraising asks and establish donor networks to funnel money to other Dems in trouble. American Muslims are better educated and wealthier than the general population. Masjid attending Muslims present a donor base which may be mobilized by sticking to the founders' principles.

The more outward displays of Islamophobia may have the effect of diminishing Muslim voting in a vacuum, but in cases where Democratic campaigns have the resources to reach out to these communities, a small investment could have a big impact.  In organizing mosque-goers, Democrats can offer American Muslims a voice in the political process and earn long-term allies as well as swing-district votes in 2010.

*** That is according to the CAIR poll which used a sample compiled of names that sounded Islamic- a more methodologically sophisticated Pew poll put the Party ID numbers at D 63% (including leaners), R 11%, I 26% NB: The twenty congressional districts with the highest estimated proportion of muslim voters follows in order of % Muslim (highest to lowest): NY-13 NJ-08 CA-08 PA-02 PA-01 VA-11 NY-14 NY-15 NY-08 NY-12 NY-10 NY-11 NY-09 NY-06 VA-08 GA-05 MI-13 MI-14 NJ-13 MD-08

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