Muslim Communities Begin to Factor in US Elections

By Ilyas Choudry, TMO


Two Houston voters from the Muslim community.

Houston, Texas: National exit polls conducted in last week’s US general elections showed that Asian Americans voted at 73% for Democrats and the re-election of President Barack Obama.  This was higher than any ethnic community with the exception of African Americans. Specific polling in areas with significant Muslim, Arab, South Asian (MASA) communities, indicated voting for Obama exceeding 80%. In several of the battleground states where Obama’s margin of victory was razor thin, this overwhelming support from the MASA communities was instrumental in his and the Democrats impressive wins’.

In the greater Houston area of Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Galveston counties, the sophisticated organized efforts of EMERGE USA were evident in the higher than usual turnout in the MASA communities. EMERGE, which stands for Empowerment Motivating Educating Resourceful Grassroots Entities and whose primary objective is to “channel underrepresented communities like MASA into the mainstream American political landscape”, organized a grassroots educational effort over the past two months. Specifically they hired three fulltime interns and gave then comprehensive training in voter outreach efforts focused on MASA turnout. Additionally they gathered an impressive group of volunteers and stakeholders to provide support for these fulltime interns.

Rather than using expensive TV ads or glossy color mail pieces, they focused on those activities which have historically been effective in communicating with and in the MASA communities. They made thousands of ethnic-scripted phone calls as well as conducted an interactive hour-long daily informative radio program in the last 2+ weeks of the campaign which combined the presence of candidates on radio with dissemination of basic voting information to the general public. They placed large size polling location info-posters in tens of community businesses and placed full-page ads in ethnic newspapers, and also bought time for advertisement and public-service announcements in Desi radio stations. They assisted in organizing Candidate Forms which provided interest and information to political activists and community organizers. They made a specific outreach effort to the youth through college & university programs emphasizing the importance of all factions of our community participating in the elections. They also appeared at ethnic events where the message for voting could be propagated. Finally, on Election Day, they assisted hundreds of community members to get to their correct polling location to vote.

The combination of these efforts resulted in a very large segment of the community participating in Early Voting and then on Election Day such that it likely was the swing factor in the margin of victory for many candidates, including President Obama who won Harris County by a scant 585 votes.

EMERGE USA conducted an exit poll of 2050 likely voters from the Muslim, Arab and South Asian American (MASA) communities in Florida. The results of the poll show that niche ethnic and religious constituencies like ours can play a decisive role where local elections are traditionally won by slim margins.

Many right wing commentators have lumped all immigrant communities into the derogatory category of “takers” while totally ignoring that the MASA and Asian American communities are the fastest growing ethnic communities, have the lowest US unemployment rate (at 4.9 % while it is 7% for whites and 14.7% for blacks) and are among the communities with the highest education and income levels. Using their advantaged position in education and economics, the MASA communities have voted at unprecedented and record levels, thereby effectively rejecting the right wing efforts to marginalize them. However, both parties cannot take us for granted and have to clearly demonstrate that they deserve our continued support and vote by involving members of our community in their leadership and by showing support for causes that are important to us.

EMERGE USA, which was established some 5 years ago, is active nationally with presence and focused efforts in Florida and Texas. Additional information is available on their website and the Texas contact person is their Chairman AJ Durrani.


1 reply
  1. Abdur Rauf Khan
    Abdur Rauf Khan says:

    EMERGE did a wonderful job in Houston. I had a first hand experience by interacting with the volunteers and witnessing the volume of calls voters were making to get the information about their polling locations on election day and asking questions to the candidates who came On-Air during early voting days.
    The most astonishing break through was the sermon from the pulpit during the Friday Prayers and Eid Khutba about the non-partisan motivational and voter’s educational text used by the Khateeb. While some years ago VOTING and SUPPORTING politicians was considered as an undesirable act of a devout . ———–BRAVO to the organizers, interns and volunteers ! Please Keep up the good work for the good of our future generations. Rauf