FEBRUARY 1, 2021 | BY ERUM IKRAMULLAH
Most Americans would agree that there are many important issues the country faces. There may be less agreement as to what the top policy issue facing the nation actually is. The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU)’s fifth annual American Muslim Poll was fielded from mid-March to mid-April of 2020, during the 2020 election primaries and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The poll included the following question asked to all respondents:
“In your own words, what is the one most important policy priority on which you judge a candidate?”
There is much speculation about what policy issues are salient to American Muslim voters. ISPU’s analysis from this poll question offers nationally representative data to inform conversations about American Muslim’s civic engagement, including their top policy concerns.
Respondents were not given a list of policy issues to choose from, rather they were asked to name their most important policy priority. From a list of more than 35 policy issues named, we created the following seven broad categories (see Appendix 1 for breakdown of categories and detailed comparison of results):
The policy issues most frequently selected by American Muslims include healthcare/medicare (19%), the economy/jobs (14%), and social justice causes (13%). Immigration, education, and foreign policy issues were less frequently cited as the most important policy priority for judging a candidate, each cited by 5% of American Muslims. Given that half of American Muslims are foreign-born and that media coverage of Muslims is still primarily centered on foreign and national security issues, some may expect that issues like immigration and foreign policy would top the list of policy priorities. Instead we find that domestic issues are most salient, supporting previous research that American Muslims are invested in and committed to the nation’s well-being. One-third of American Muslims (33%) selected some other policy priority, ranging from “abortion/right to life” to “climate change” to “gun control” (see Appendix I for a full list of issues included in the “Other” category).
Looking at the general public, we find the most frequently mentioned policy priority is the economy (on its own, not grouped with “jobs”). One in five members of the general public (20%) said that the economy is the most important policy priority upon which they judge a candidate. At 12%, American Muslims were significantly less likely than the general public, Jews (21%), Catholics (24%), and white Evangelicals (28%) to cite the economy as their top policy priority.
American Muslims also differ from other groups in their choice of healthcare (on its own, not grouped with “medicare”) as the most important policy priority. Muslims (17%) are more likely than the general public (10%), Catholics (6%), Protestants (8%), and white Evangelicals (3%) to cite healthcare on its own as a priority.
Among the American Muslim community, there are no differences by race or age when it comes to selecting healthcare as the most important policy priority. However, when it comes to choosing the economy as the top policy issue, we find that white Muslims are more likely than Black and Arab Muslims to do so (19% vs. 10% and 8%, respectively).
American Muslim Poll 2020 marks ISPU’s fifth consecutive year of polling the American public. In 2016, we asked the same question about policy priorities to all respondents and found that more than one quarter of American Muslims (27%) selected the economy or jobs as their most important policy priority compared to 14% in 2020. Additionally, in 2016, 4% of American Muslims chose healthcare as their most important policy issue compared with 17% in 2020. One possible explanation for the increased salience of healthcare as a policy issue for American Muslims could be the timing of the 2020 survey which took place as the COVID-19 pandemic began and states went into lockdown, bringing health and access to healthcare to the forefront. Another potential explanation is that the policy issue of healthcare as a human right has gained attention over the last four years, especially as the Trump administration has worked to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and progressive candidates have embraced Medicare For All as an increasingly popular position.
Erum Ikramullah is the Research Project Manager at ISPU, where she manages the day-to-day activities of the organization’s research studies. Previously, she worked at Child Trends as a Research Analyst on both quantitative and qualitative research studies on topics related to reproductive health, risky adolescent behavior, and fatherhood. Learn more about Erum→