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Why Immigrant American Muslims Voted for Trump in Greater Numbers Than Before

Why Immigrant American Muslims Voted for Trump in Greater Numbers Than Before

Alpana Varma
  • The relative absence of U.S. war and violence against Muslim countries over the past four years and the community’s growing discontent with the center-left lip service may have accounted for it.

Even though Joe Biden is set to take oath of office in little over a month from now, there is still room for introspection and analysis of why the minority vote has actually shown a marked increase in favor of the GOP in the 2020 election. The same minorities, whom the Republicans in general and Donald Trump in particular have demonized and enacted policies that go against their interests, seem to have turned out to vote in unpredictable ways. Some observers believe this trend is rising at an alarming rate and the left-center parties can ignore them only at their own peril. There are important lessons to be learned for future election strategies, they emphasize. 

At a seminar on Race, Gender and Ethnicity in the 2020 Elections, Dr. M.A. Muqtedar Khan, Professor of Islam and Global Affairs at the University of Delaware, delineated his findings on the voting behavior of American Muslims who make up about a million voters.

He based his analysis on two exit polls conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and by news agency AP. The former, Dr. Khan says, has a conservative base, of which 69 per cent Muslims said they voted for Biden, 17 per cent for Trump, 11 per cent refused to answer and 3 per cent said they did not vote. Dr. Khan believes that those who refused to answer were clearly Trump supporters. The AP poll revealed the break up as 64-35. So, almost one out of three American Muslims voted for Trump, despite him issuing a Muslim travel ban and hurling various insults at them. 

This is part of an interesting trend. While Barack Obama had in 2008 won 88% of the Muslim vote, in 2012 the share fell to 85%. While Hillary Clinton won 74% of the Muslim vote in 2016, in 2020 Joe Biden got only 69%. 

According to 2017 demographic data collated by Pew Research Center (Religion & Public Life), Muslim Americans, estimated at 3.45 million, are a diverse and growing population. The community is made up heavily of immigrants and the children of immigrants around the world. While no single country is origin for more than 15 % of foreign born U.S. Muslims, South Asia as a region accounts for the highest proportion at 20%. Middle East/North Africa has the second largest share of U.S. Muslims at 14%. Pakistan at 9% is the country with the largest contingent of Muslim immigrants, Iran with 6% is second, Sub Saharan Africa 5%, India and Afghanistan 4% each, Bangladesh and Iraq 3%, Syria, Kuwait and Egypt 2% each and other places also 2% or less. 

‘Your sympathetic rhetoric and your verbal condemnation of Islamaphobia are not enough. We want to see concrete policies that improve our political and economic conditions.’

Prof. Iqbal Akhtar, who holds dual professorship at Florida International University in International Relations and Religion Studies, says there is a lot of overlap in voting behavior of Muslims from South Asia and from the Middle East, although some issues are more important to South Asians such as Rohingya or Kashmir. He added, however, “Unfortunately, both are interested in white normativity even when it goes against their own interests.”

According to Dr. Khan, the main reasons cited by Trump supporters in the community can be summed up in four or five main points. The first one being, there were no new wars in the Muslim world. Therefore, no large scale killing of Muslims took place during the last four years and this is very important to them. Second on their list of considerations is the LGBTQ issue. For them, Trump is morally superior to Ilhan Omar, a hijab wearing Muslim, because she supports LGBTQ people. For Dr. Khan, this is a bit of a shocker as they put this issue above everything else. 

Muslims as Bernie Bros

Some very wealthy Muslims were concerned about the Democrats’ proposal to raise taxes. Memories of Joe Biden’s role in the Iraq War was also a cause for concern. His support for the Patriot Act passed by George W. Bush administration, arming law enforcement with tools to detect and prevent terrorism and more recently, his ‘iron-clad’ pledge to support to Israel, have all alienated these conservative members of the community. 

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Surprisingly, the progressive agenda of Bernie Sanders had won them over and it seems that in the primaries 90% of the Muslims voted for him. Sanders’ stand on the Israel-Palestine dispute seemed to resonate with them as also the other progressive policies and civil rights issues. Here Dr. Khan draws a parallel between the voting behavior of Muslims in the Indian state of Bihar to the American Muslims’ vote in 2020. The ability to go beyond assurances given by left-centrist parties in both cases seems to take everyone by surprise. 

“Given the rise of Islamaphobia and right-wing religious nationalism both in the U.S. and in India, one would surmise that Muslims would vote left of center. In both countries, many Muslims have chosen to send a message to the center-left, ‘Your sympathetic rhetoric and your verbal condemnation of Islamaphobia are not enough. We want to see concrete policies that improve our political and economic conditions’.’’ Dr. Khan added that neither Biden’s promises nor the fear of Hindu nationalism are influencing their votes. 

Born in Hyderabad, India, Dr. Khan identifies as liberal yet traditional and is critical of radicalism and conservatism in Islamic thought. Considered a rising star among Muslim intellectuals, he is particularly well respected in the Shia community. His recent publication, “Islam and Good Governance: A Political Philosophy of Ihsan,” has won a lot of acclaim. He runs a YouTube channel called Khanversations, airing his perspective on current events. 


Alpana Varma worked as a Research Assistant at the Delhi University and then as a journalist for over 10 years for several leading Indian national dailies. After leaving India for Europe, she has been working as a teacher, translator and freelance writer and editor. She lived in Mexico briefly where she worked in intercultural communications. Currently she is based in Miami. 

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