Donald Trump wants to ban any more Muslims from entering the United States. Yet among Muslim Americans, he's the most popular Republican candidate for president — although that may say more about the rest of the GOP field than about Trump, given that he's polling "first" among Republicans with only 7.5 percent Muslim American support.
That's according to a new survey of Muslim Americans from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), conducted among 2,000 Muslims in California, New York, Illinois, Florida, Texas, and Virginia. The survey found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that three-quarters of American Muslims support a Democrat. Of those, 52 percent support Clinton and 22 percent support Sanders.
But coming in a distant third, with about 7.5 percent support, is Donald Trump — more than every other Republican candidate combined.
When I asked Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's national communications director, how Trump had landed third in their poll, he let out a barking laugh.
"That's kinda what we wondered too!" he said.
Hooper suggested it could be name recognition — "His name is out there 24/7" — or maybe joke answers or some other distortion. "Look, if you asked in a survey if the moon was made of green cheese, you'd probably get 7 percent to say that too," Hooper said.
It's also possible, he acknowledged, that Muslims supporting Trump simply weren't thinking about the race in terms of their religious identity. Trump has substantial support among Americans generally, so it's not impossible that whatever is motivating Trump supporters generally — the economy, for example — could also motivate some Muslim Americans who are willing to overlook his Islamophobia.
Indeed, Trump's margin among Muslim American voters who support a Republican candidate is roughly similar to his margin among national Republicans in the RealClearPolitics poll average. So it's very plausible this just reflects the fact that some Muslim Americans are Republican, and they are supporting candidates roughly in proportion to other Republicans.
But they would be outliers. About 30 percent of Muslims in CAIR's poll said Islamophobia was the top issue in the race — the highest-rated issue CAIR asked about. When CAIR asked the same question before the 2014 midterms, only 15 percent of Muslims said it was their top issue. The Islamophobia you hear from Trump and others in this race has, it's clear, become a major concern for Muslim Americans.
Muslim Americans seem to have become solid Democrats — and Clinton supporters
What's really striking about the poll is the depth of Muslim support for Democrats. Before 2001, the Republican Party had been a fairly comfortable place for Muslims. Large majorities of Muslims voted for George H.W. Bush in 1992, as well as George W. Bush in 2000 (Bill Clinton won Muslims' votes in 1996).
But that hasn't been true in the past three elections. Starting in 2004, Muslims shifted to the Democrats en masse, apparently reacting against Bush's foreign policy and anti-Muslim rhetoric from some in the GOP and right-wing media. In 2008, Obama won a whopping 90 percent of Muslim voters. The CAIR poll suggests that 2016 is falling into a similar pattern.
"On every issue and by every measure, Muslim Americans should vote firmly with the GOP," Suhail Khan, a former Bush administration official and conservative Republican, wrote in a 2010 Foreign Policy article, referring to polls indicating that Muslim Americans tend to be pro-life, opposed to same-sex marriage, and in favor of lower tax rates, for example.
"But they won’t until the party finds leadership willing to stop playing to the worst instincts of its minority of bigoted supporters," Khan wrote. That was in 2010; the GOP has not become friendlier to Muslims since.
Still, what explain Clinton's huge lead over Sanders among Muslim Americans? Probably race. Among Democrats, Sanders ties or even leads Clinton among white voters but is behind with nonwhite Democrats. American Muslims are quite diverse: A 2011 Pew survey found that "30 percent describe themselves as white, 23 percent as black, 21 percent as Asian, 6 percent as Hispanic and 19 percent as other or mixed race." Clinton's 2-to-1 lead among Muslims tracks with those proportions.