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Muslims in the U.S. are more politically engaged than ever, study finds

The number of Muslim Americans who are registered to vote has shot up since 2016.
IMage: Enas Almadhwahi, an immigration outreach organizer for the Arab American Association of New York, sits for a photo along Fifth Avenue in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Enas Almadhwahi, an immigration outreach organizer for the Arab American Association of New York, sits for a photo along Fifth Avenue in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn.Julie Jacobson / AP file

Muslim Americans are more politically engaged and registered to vote in 2020 than ever before, a report published last week says.

According to a poll by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 78 percent of eligible Muslim voters in the United States are registered to cast their ballots this year, compared with just 60 percent who were registered in 2016.

“Muslim Americans have become so politicized,” the institute's research director, Dalia Mogahed, told NBC Asian America. “They command way more attention than their numbers would suggest makes any sense. They’re 1 percent of the population, yet talked about, discussed, scapegoated so often. So it's really important that if they're going to be talked about that they also have a voice, that they also have a place at the table.”

After President Donald Trump took office, Muslim American satisfaction with the U.S. took a sharp decline. Since 2018, it has more or less plateaued, and since last year, it has begun to climb slightly.

The study showed that Muslim American support for President Donald Trump has also climbed by a small margin since 2016, though it is lower than the group’s support for any other candidate, including all Democratic Primary contenders.

Throughout his 2016 presidential campaign and time in office, Trump has made Islamophobic comments, which Mogahed says have alienated Muslim voters.

At a 2015 campaign rally, Trump told a supporter he would look into the country’s “Muslim problem”. Later that year, he made promises to implement a database or “watchlist” to track Muslims in the U.S., and issued a statement calling for the shutdown of Muslim immigration to the U.S. He also falsely claimed he watched thousands of Muslims cheering as the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11. During a debate, he said “Islam hates us.”

The institute recorded a 22 percent drop in Muslim American satisfaction with the country between 2016 and 2017.

In 2017, the first executive order in what is commonly referred to as Trump’s “Muslim Ban” went into effect, banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Between 2017 and 2018, Muslim American satisfaction with the U.S. dropped to just 27 percent.

Mogahed says that the Trump administration’s Islamophobic rhetoric and policy is part of what has led Muslims across the country to take more of an interest in politics, and that while rates of satisfaction have gradually increased to 37 percent, race has been a better determinant than religiosity.

According to the study, Muslims who identified as white were just as likely as white Americans in the general public to approve of Trump’s performance as president, while Black Muslims, Asian Muslims and Arab Muslims were shown to support the president at very low rates.

“It just shows that American Muslims aren't immune to having race be a salient factor in how you view the president,” Mogahed said. “Although it's not as stark in the Muslim community, that trend is still there as well.”

Overall, Muslims still face the highest rates of institutional and interpersonal religious discrimination in the country, with 44 percent of respondents reporting discrimination at airports, 33 percent when applying for jobs, and 31 percent in interactions with law enforcement.

After 20 years of studying anti-Muslim sentiment, Mogahed says she sees a pattern: Islamophobia in politics will peak among Republicans during elections seasons — and Democrats will often feed into it in the run-up to wars.

“So what has happened with Trump taking office is there is a partisan divide where ... the Islamophobia among Republicans has increased, but it's almost like a net zero because it is decreasing among Democrats,” she said.