#MyMuslimVote: Trump's travel ban and Islamophobia could drive a record turnout of Muslims in the US election

Muslims in the US may only account for just over one per cent of the country's population, but some say prevailing concerns over Islamophobia and Donald Trump's travel ban will be motivating factors to vote like never before in the 3 November poll.

People take part in a protest against Islamophobia in New York in 2019.

People take part in a protest against Islamophobia in New York in 2019. Source: AFP/Getty Images

A coalition of Muslim Americans is seeking to drive a record turnout in the upcoming United States election with efforts to get as many members of their faith as possible to have their say when voters go to the polls.  

Grassroots organisations have been working to increase the enrolment and voting presence of Muslims ahead of the contest between Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden on 3 November.

Prevailing concerns over Islamophobia and Mr Trump’s so-called Muslim travel ban - an executive order banning foreign nationals from some predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the US - are understood to be significant factors motivating stronger engagement.

MPower Change is among the groups that have been working to support the #MyMuslimVote campaign to promote a nationwide registration drive.  

Grassroots organisations have been working to increase participation in the election.
Source: MPower Change

“Our idea has been, how do we politicise and make sure the Muslim community are not on the sidelines?” MPower Change organising director Ishraq Ali told SBS News.  

“We can’t be on the sidelines around how our political destiny is being shaped.”  

The #MyMuslimVote campaign has supported Muslim Americans to register their vote, request a vote-by-mail ballot or find an in-person polling station.   

Mr Ali said the initiative has been about normalising voter participation among Muslim Americans who have historically been associated with a low turnout at the ballot box.  

“We have seen that there is a gap between the older immigrant community and the younger generation … that are awakening because Muslims are being targeted in the political rhetoric,” he said. 

“Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias, white nationalism - many members in the community are observing and witnessing this.”

The #MyMuslimVote movement has been supported by a number of organisations.
Source: AAP

The Pew Research Centre estimates there are at least 3.45 million Muslims living in the US, making up about 1.1 per cent of the US population.  

It means members of the faith represent a small proportion of total voters in the US, with almost 137 million Americans casting their ballot in 2016. Christians still account for a vast majority of registered voters at 64 per cent, with some 28 per cent of voters identifying as religiously unaffiliated and five per cent following other faiths. 

But there has been an increasing number of Muslim Americans registering to vote in 2020, according to research by think tank the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU). 

Muslim advocacy groups say they want members of their faith to help decide the future direction of the US.
Source: MPower Change

Its polling shows the voter registration of Muslim Americans has increased to up to 78 per cent for eligible voters this year from around 60 per cent in 2016.  

Youssef Chouhoud, an assistant professor at Christopher Newport University, said a sense of political “consciousness” has been growing among the group since the 2016 election. 

“American Muslims' political consciousness is very much ripe to come on the political stage this cycle,” he said. 

“[They] are beginning to think of themselves as part of the mosaic of minority communities here in the United States.”  

According to analysts, the impact of the voter block is set to be felt most strongly in swing states with a higher proportion of Muslim voters including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Robert McCaw said he believed the increasing strength of the Muslim American vote could have a real impact in those key “battleground states”.  

“We are well-positioned with just one or two per cent of the voters in that state to tip the election in the favour of the candidate that best represents the views of Muslim voters,” he said. 

“Many swing states or even cities were won by one per cent margins [at the last election], so people realise the importance of their vote.”  

'Sense of threat heightened'

Research conducted by the ISPU found Muslim Americans appear to be the least likely religious group to support Mr Trump in 2020. 

Mr Chouhoud said the sentiment is connected to anti-Muslim rhetoric circling the 2016 election campaign following Mr Trump's travel ban announcement.

“The sense of threat in the American Muslim community has been heightened greatly for reasons primarily dealing with the rhetoric from politicians,” he said. 

“Chief among them, Donald Trump, but not exclusively.” 

US Election Diaries: Muslim Ban

The poll, conducted from March to April, found up to 51 per cent had indicated they would select a Democrat for president compared to only 16 per cent who selected a Republican. 

Even fewer considered Mr Trump their preferred candidate at 14 per cent, compared to 27 per cent of Jewish respondents, 34 per cent of Catholics, 39 per cent of Protestants, 61 per cent of white Evangelicals, and 30 per cent of the general public.

Muslim leaders and allies at a 2019 rally against Islamophobia in New York's Times Square.
Source: SIPA USA

The travel ban issued in Mr Trump’s first week as president has gone through many iterations, but it currently restricts travel from Syria, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, Tanzania and North Korea.

Following Mr Trump's election, Muslim Americans also experienced a spike in hate crimes with a 19 per cent increase on the previous year, according to data from the FBI. 

Aysha Ahmed, deputy organising director at American Muslim advocacy organisation Emgage Action, said the travel ban continued to have a deep impact on many voters.  

“Those issues are really driving a lot of motivation and energy. These are issues. It's our lives. It's our community. It's our people,” she said.

“Our families are being separated and there are no words to put behind that kind of pain.” 

Mr Biden has pledged to rescind the travel ban “on day one” if elected. 

The travel ban is understood to be a concern motivating some Muslim American voters at this year's election.
Source: AP

The Muslim population in the US represents a diverse coalition of voters consisting of voters of Arab American, African American, South Asian American and other backgrounds.  

Advocates say healthcare, education, transport and how the country's next leader will handle the economy in the midst of a global coronavirus recession have been identified as other important issues for Muslim voters.

Ms Ahmed said the upcoming election presented a critical chance for all Muslim Americans to have their say on the country’s future moving forward.   

“It really is a distinct moment in the political realm now. There is a lot at stake,” she said.  

“There is a lot to be said about the value and the direction that this country wants to go and Muslims definitely play a pivotal role in that story.” 

The Trump campaign in mid-August launched Muslim Voices for Trump, a platform encouraging Muslim voters to support his campaign. 

“Re-electing President Trump will ensure the protection of religious liberties, economic prosperity, and educational opportunities for Muslims in America,” its website reads.

Published 31 October 2020 at 1:21pm
By Tom Stayner