Muslim voter turnout in four key swing states jumped 25 percentage points from the 2014 to the 2018 midterm elections, according to a new study released by the Muslim political advocacy group Emgage.
Emgage, which works to educate, register and mobilize Muslim American voters, crunched the numbers in Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia.
The four states, with significant Muslim populations, also happen to be key battlegrounds in presidential and congressional elections.
Emgage hopes the findings show that politicians in both parties can no longer afford not to reach out to Muslim Americans and engage them on issues of particular importance to them.
“This is a community that has not engaged politically in the past and has been taken for granted by both political parties,” said Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage. “We’re seeing now an undeniable trend, and the trend is moving up. Muslims are voting. They’re going to be significant politically.”
On a new landing page on the organization’s website, users can find data and infographics showing the uptick in Muslim turnout in each of the key states Emgage looked at.
Had Muslims voted in 2016 at the rate that they voted in 2018, most likely that state would not have gone to Trump. Wael Alzayat, Emgage
In Florida, 53% of registered Muslim voters turned out to vote in the 2018 midterm elections ― a 22 percentage point increase from 2014.
In Ohio, 48% of registered Muslim voters participated ― a 29 percentage point increase.
In Virginia, 60% of registered Muslim voters participated ― a 31 percentage point increase.
And in Michigan, 50% of registered Muslim voters participated ― a 19 percentage point increase.
In total, across the four swing states, Muslim turnout jumped from about 130,000 votes to over 285,000 from 2014 to 2018.
In close congressional races that often come down to just a few hundred votes, the data suggest that a modest change in Muslim turnout could make the difference in a race.
Donald Trump’s razor-thin margin of victory in Muslim-heavy Michigan in 2016 also indicates that Muslim voters could play a key role in the outcome of the 2020 election. In Michigan’s Wayne County, home to the Muslim hubs of Dearborn and Hamtramck in the metropolitan Detroit area, Muslim turnout jumped from about 18,000 people in 2014 to about 32,000 people in 2018.
“Had Muslims voted in 2016 at the rate that they voted in 2018, most likely that state would not have gone to Trump,” Alzayat said.
To arrive at its findings, Emgage developed an algorithm that matches names on voter files commonly associated with Muslims and applied it to voter data it purchased from the progressive data trust Catalist. The nonprofit acknowledges that the formula likely omits many voters without noticeably Muslim names, and may over-count people with Muslim names who do not identify as Muslims. Over the years, though, as it fine-tunes its database through direct voter contact, it has improved the accuracy of its information.
Emgage’s analysis found that Muslim turnout was still lower than overall turnout in 2018 in the four states researchers looked at.
Historically, Muslim voter turnout has been lower, especially in midterm elections, because of the high percentage of immigrants in the Muslim community who may be less acclimated to U.S. civic culture.
But the election of Trump, who ran a blatantly anti-Muslim campaign, and the accompanying growth of organizations like Emgage has sparked new interest in political participation.
The uptick in political engagement was not just limited to voting. Emgage estimated that in 2018, there were about 100 Muslim candidates for public office at all levels of government ― the most at any point since at least 2001.
“There is not a history of engaging the Muslim community in political campaigns,” Alzayat said. “It’s changing. They are now recognizing the value of the electorate.”
Muslim voters have many of the same concerns as other Americans, such as being able to afford health care, education, and live in a country with adequate gun safety, according to Alzayat.
But the Muslim community also has concerns specific to the advent of the post-Sept. 11 surveillance state and the more recent rise in Islamophobia that came with Trump’s election. Some causes that politicians might become more attentive to as Muslim Americans leverage their electoral clout include ending surveillance of mosques, undoing the travel ban on people from some Muslim-majority countries and providing greater resources to combat Islamophobic hate crimes.
Muslim Americans were once more diverse in their voting patterns, but the Republican Party’s embrace of anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies has increasingly driven Muslim voters into the arms of Democrats. More than three-quarters of Muslim Americans in five key swing states voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to a post-election survey conducted by Emgage.
“Muslims have been paying attention and are voting. Candidates who have stood by our community are going to get rewarded,” Alzayat said. “For candidates that have not, there might be consequences at the polls.”