I hate to keep reporting on polls here at RealityChek because, as I keep noting, gauging public opinion sometimes doesn’t seem much more scientific than alchemy. But sometimes the results are so darned interesting – and focus on such neglected subjects – that they demand spotlighting.
So kudos to the Gallup organization for shedding light on a question that’s the mirror image of something that surveys have been obsessing about recently. Rather than (yet again), asking what Americans of different parties think of Islam and the nation’s Muslim population, Gallup asked American Muslims what they think of the two major political parties. Thanks to recent headlines, the results aren’t surprising. But their ultimate political importance may be much less obvious.
Just as most polls have detected more concern about American Muslims and their religion in Republican than Democratic ranks – along with more Republican support for measures like Donald Trump-like bans or restrictions on Muslim travel to the United States – Gallup’s latest shows that American Muslims are the religious group most enthusiastic about the Democrats.
According to Gallup, fully two-thirds of American Muslims “identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party.” American Jews are the only other significant religious group that comes close, at 60 percent. The figures for Catholics and Protestants, respectively, are 43 percent and 39 percent.
In addition, “Muslim Americans have the lowest percentage of any religious group who identify as or lean Republican.” And here the gap is even wider. This figure of 16 percent is much lower than that of the next least Republican identifiers – Jews, at 31 percent. Forty one percent of Catholics and 48 percent of Protestants identify with or lean Republican.
There’s of course a strong temptation to conclude that Republicans’ unpopularity with Muslims is all Trump’s fault. But this interesting recent Atlantic piece makes clear that the GOP’s standing with America’s Muslims has been weakening steadily since George W. Bush’s initial election as president in 2000. Moreover, it provides evidence that this decline began during Bush’s presidency, despite his high profile efforts to encourage toleration towards Muslims throughout the entire post September 11 period.
Perhaps most intriguing of all, election results presented in this article indicate that Muslim views of Republicans have actually improved somewhat since the mid-2000s, and that this trend has continued in the Obama years.
Will today’s Republican campaign drive even more Muslim voters into the Democratic camp? And how much will this matter, given the importance of individual states in the U.S. presidential election system and how the geographic distribution of the (voting age) Muslim population compares with various electoral college strategies all presidential candidates are developing right now? I sure don’t have any answers at this point. (Just FYI, here’s one U.S. government state- and county-level breakdown on where the nation’s Muslims live.)
What does seem clear is that what you hear about Islam and Muslims and related policy questions from the two major parties and their candidates will of course reflect genuine convictions about national security and public fears. But it will also reflect technical political calculations stemming from Gallup-like polls and Electoral College-related demographics.