(CNSNews.com) – Nearly 90 percent of American Muslims supported Democrat Barack Obama on Election Day -- and did so on the basis of economic and foreign policy concerns, top Muslim groups said in Washington, D.C., Friday.
Muslims overlooked differences they might have had with the President-elect’s positions on same-sex marriage and abortion, just as Catholics and other religious groups did on Tuesday, according to top officials connected with the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT).
Although most Muslims probably voted in favor of the same-sex marriage ban on the ballot in California, a position at odds with Obama's, they found enough common ground with the candidate in other areas that were central to their concerns in the 2008 election cycle, according to Mahdi Bray, executive director the Muslim-American Society Freedom Foundation.
“Yes, Muslims believe marriage should be between a man and a woman but like other groups they split their vote,” Bray told CNSNews.com.
“They did not just go straight down the line. There was a lot of careful, independent thinking. Other religious groups like Catholics also voted for Obama despite having some differences, so Muslims were not alone in this, they were like other Americans.”
The AMT -- an umbrella organization that includes 11 other Islamic groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the American Muslim Alliance, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Alliance in North America and the Muslim Student Association-National -- gathered at the National Press Club to report on the electoral preferences of Muslim voters and their level of participation.
Almost 90 percent of the respondents to a poll commissioned by AMT voted in favor of Obama. Just 2 percent supported Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Republican candidate.
The AMT survey also found that Muslims identified with the Democratic Party in higher percentages than with the GOP. Over two-thirds of the respondents said they were Democrats and only 4 percent said they were Republicans. The remaining 29 percent described themselves as independents.
The AMT poll sampled about 600 Muslims, who were mostly concentrated in Illinois, New York, Virginia, Michigan, California, Texas, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida and Pennsylvania. The interviews took place Nov. 5-6.
Tuesday’s turnout among Muslim voters was the highest ever recorded, with 95 percent of respondents telling pollsters they had voted, according to the AMT findings.
Over 60 percent of Muslims put the economy at the top of their list of concerns -- far outpacing other issues. Only 16 percent of American Muslims said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were their top concerns.
“The economy really stood out here,” Nihad Awad, the executive director of CAIR, said in an interview. “Muslims share the same concerns as other Americans about the economic picture. They are worried about losing their homes and losing credit. So it’s logical to see this result right now. I would say that civil rights are also very central.”
A survey of over 1,000 Muslims taken earlier in the year -- long before the stock market slide -- showed that civil rights and education were also top issues.
Awad called on the new president-elect to shut down the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as way of “restoring America’s moral standing in the world.”
AMT Chairman Agha Saeed told CNSNews.com that Republicans must make it clear that are willing to uphold America’s constitutional principles -- and to promote equality, in particular -- if they expect to gain any traction with Muslim voters in the future.
“Are they going to be a party of bigotry and exclusion, or are they going to be the party of Abraham Lincoln?” Saeed asked.
However, Saeed also said that is not necessary to have complete agreement across the board to attract a substantial number of voters as this past election demonstrated.
“Politics involves partial agreements,” he observed. “The Republican Party base did not have agreement with John McCain and the Democratic Party did not always agree with Obama. It is impossible to have complete uniformity.”
But there was strong unity with Obama on the economy, universal healthcare and immigration policy, Saeed suggested.
“Obama may have captured the imagination of the Muslim community when he called for negotiated settlements and diplomatic recognition,” he said. “This is what differentiated him first from [Sen.] Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and second John McCain. He campaigned on a sense of newness and change that could be beneficial to the whole world.”