The Swing Vote: The GOP's Need for the American Muslim Vote

July 9, 2015

Picture by the World Affairs Council, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Picture by the World Affairs Council, licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Republican Party is recognizing the need to reform itself and is becoming more inclusive and open-minded on social issues such as immigration, LGBTQ rights and welfare programs. Yet, despite all this progress, the party seems stagnant on one key issue: the treatment of American Muslims. 

When considering the efforts made by the Bush Administration to engage the Muslim community and to draw a clear line between Islam and extremism, it seems baffling that members from the same party would then radically shift in their position toward that group. Candidates such as Scott WalkerRick Santorum, and Marco Rubio, have all made blatantly Islamophobic remarks. These statements lend legitimacy to extremist groups by equating their ideology with Islam and further fuel Islamophobic sentiment within America, thereby isolating American Muslim voters. Strategically, this is a mistake for the GOP and they must act swiftly to change their rhetoric or risk losing crucial votes from both American Muslims and an ever-growing base of non-Muslim American allies.

From a practical perspective, the decisions of the Republican candidates seem shortsighted and narrow-minded. While this targeted rhetoric may be successful in primaries, as most moderate and left-leaning voters do not participate in them, it becomes much harder to win the general election when a candidate also has to defend these discriminatory attacks to the broader electorate. The GOP cannot hope that Muslims will just miss or forget this offensive rhetoric, which candidates use in primaries as a means of garnering votes from the most extreme segments of the population. 

Further, non-Muslim Americans have also demonstrated their distaste for Islamophobic remarks. Senator Lindsey Graham’s recent rebuttal to the Islamophobic heckler had a very positive response from non-Muslims and actually improved his approval ratings among voters. While it may initially seem that outspoken Islamophobes make up a large portion of the conservative constituency, the majority of conservatives, independents, and liberals disown Islamophobic remarks. The strategy of making up for lost Muslim voters with Islamophobic ones is doomed to fail, as most non-Muslim Americans are becoming more unlikely to support candidates who make misinformed and targeted verbal attacks at a segment of the population.

The Republican Party has completely disregarded its own conservative ideology when launching verbal attacks on Islam and calling for targeted policies to limit the freedoms of Muslims. Conservative values such as individual choice, religious freedom, and a limited government have all been overlooked when Republican candidates call for increased spying tactics against American Muslims and marginalize Muslims with their aggressive rhetoric. The America that any candidate is seeking to lead is one that is based on the values of pluralism and religious freedom; members of the GOP should engage all communities based on those values.



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