In this close election, it is a small voting bloc that will decide the outcome. On November 6, American Muslims are in a position to determine which presidential candidate will win in key swing states such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida.
A recent survey of registered Muslim voters, conducted by an independent research firm for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), indicates that some 25 percent of Muslim voters are still undecided about who to vote for in the presidential election and are therefore still open to appeals from the candidates.
CAIR’s survey also shows that American Muslims are engaged in the political process, with more than 90 percent of Muslim voters saying they will go to the polls on election day. Of those polled, 68 percent said they will vote to re-elect President Obama and seven percent said they will vote for Mitt Romney.
Like many other Americans, the top five issues of importance to American Muslim voters are jobs and the economy, education, health care policy, Medicare and Social Security, and civil rights.
The percentage of those who said they are closer to the Democratic Party grew from 49 percent in a similar poll taken in 2008 to 66 percent today. Almost half of respondents said that the Democratic Party was friendly towards Muslims.
Muslim voters are very concerned about the rising level of Islamophobia within American society and with the promotion and exploitation of Islamophobia within the Republican Party. More than half of CAIR survey respondents say that the Republican Party is unfriendly toward Muslims.
As was evident from the third presidential debate, Mitt Romney's hostile view of the Muslim and Arab world makes American Muslims voters anxious about a possible repeat of George W. Bush’s counterproductive foreign policies. Romney’s ideological approach to foreign policy does not inspire confidence in the establishment of more productive relations with the Muslim world.
Because of their knowledge and understanding of international issues, American Muslims also care about foreign policies such as democracy in the Muslim world and peace and justice for the Palestinians.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents to CAIR’s survey say the US should provide support to those fighting for freedom in Syria and 76 percent say the US and NATO made the right decision by intervening in the Libyan revolution.
The majority of American Muslims will likely vote for President Obama, but not as enthusiastically as they did in 2008. They are clearly not happy with the continued erosion of Muslim civil liberties, the most egregious example of which was the widespread spying on Muslim students, shopkeepers, schools, and mosques by the New York Police Department in cooperation with the CIA.
There is relief that the unjustified war on Iraq was ended by President Obama, but also concern that the escalation of military action in Afghanistan caused more harm than benefit. And American Muslims are not alone in opposing the drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have claimed so many innocent civilian lives.
A number of surveys have shown that Muslim voters are religiously diverse, well integrated in American society, politically active, and support candidates of any party who address their concerns.
In the 2000 election, Muslims voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush, in part because of his public stand against the use of secret evidence in the nation's courts. In 2004, Muslims concerned about the erosion of civil rights in the post-9/11 era voted for Sen. John Kerry. In 2008, almost 90 percent of American Muslim voters picked Barack Obama.
It is this willingness to swing between parties that makes Muslim voters so important in close elections.
In the end, American Muslim voters will look at the overall picture of the future under either one of the major candidates and will then they make a decision about who to vote for. But the lack of engagement with American Muslims by the candidates may very well cost one of them the presidency.
The fact that more than 90 percent of registered Muslim voters intend to go to the polls on November 6 clearly shows that Muslims are among the most politically-engaged of all Americans.
* Nihad Awad is national executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties organisation.