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Muslim Voters' Attitudes Have Shifted 'Dramatically' In Past 15 Years

RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

One of Trump's most controversial spats of the past two weeks has been with Khizr Khan, Muslim-American father of a war hero who spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

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KHIZR KHAN: Donald Trump, you're asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you - have you even read the United States Constitution?

(APPLAUSE)

KHAN: I will gladly lend you my copy.

SUAREZ: Khizr Khan talked with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED yesterday about the back and forth with Donald Trump and was asked about whether he regrets speaking out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KHAN: I will do it million time. I'll do it hundred million time. It's the time - now is the time for the rest of the world to see the true America, the decent America, the good America.

SUAREZ: There are about 3.3 million Muslim-Americans in America, a small portion of the population, but they could play an important role in so-called swing states during the upcoming elections.

We wanted to know more about how this community tends to vote and how they're responding to this campaign, so we called Dalia Mogahed. She's the director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, D.C., and I started by asking her how Muslim-Americans identified politically toward the end of last century.

DALIA MOGAHED: You know, American Muslims are a very diverse community, so it's hard to pinpoint one attitude. But roughly, when you look at Muslims of immigrant backgrounds, they mostly identified with the Republican Party, actually. They thought that the Republican Party spoke more to their values, possibly more to their business interests.

Whereas African-American Muslims traditionally, like most other African-Americans, voted Democrat. So there was this split in the community around the year 2000.

SUAREZ: The year 2000. How have those attitudes changed since the September 11 terrorist attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

MOGAHED: Well, things have changed dramatically. After many predominantly immigrant organizations endorsed George W. Bush in 2000, there was a huge shift after he became president and with the attacks of 9/11 carried out, many policies that were seen as very detrimental to civil liberties and security and freedom of American Muslims.

The Iraq War also was a huge issue. Most Muslims in America were completely against this war. So the plurality of Muslims identify now, actually, as Democrats, and only 6 percent identify as Republicans. So there's been a sea change in the community politically.

SUAREZ: Has Donald Trump's rhetoric around Muslim immigration, around things like the surveillance of mosques, had a significant effect on Muslim-American political attitudes?

MOGAHED: I think the increasingly hostile rhetoric - it didn't start this election cycle, of course, it was there in 2008 and in 2012 - but what that rhetoric has done is to shift people who would have otherwise voted Republican to be independents and to really vote based on policies rather than partisanship.

SUAREZ: So has the Khan speech and all the dispute that follows it, will you look back on it as something that accomplished something important, even with the discomfort it might bring to a lot of people on all sides of the questions?

MOGAHED: What I think the Khan speech did was to establish American Muslims as part and parcel of every facet of life. And this feels frustrating to even have to say that this has to happen, but in such a charged political cycle, with people actually entertaining policy suggestions, such as registering people based on their religion or banning people because of their religion - to have the father of a fallen soldier stand up and really call out Donald Trump, I think, was a watershed moment. And I'm not sure that Trump will really be able to recover.

SUAREZ: I'm wondering, Dalia, if there is, let's say, proportional awareness of Hillary Rodham Clinton's long-standing strong support of Israel and whether that can be as alienating to some parts of this community as the other candidates' rhetoric has been in other ways.

MOGAHED: I think that's a really important point, and I think for a segment of the American Muslim community, this is a huge issue. And it's being discussed, and it really puts many people in a position of not knowing what to do, who to vote for and feeling that either they're voting for someone who's a staunch supporter of Israeli policies that are detrimental to the Palestinian people and to their security and freedom or someone who is a threat to possibly the security and freedom of American Muslims. So Hillary's rhetoric and positions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are definitely her greatest vulnerability with the American Muslim community.

SUAREZ: Dalia Mogahed is the director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, and she joined us from Buenos Aires. Dalia Mogahed, good to talk to you.

MOGAHED: Thank you, Ray. It's great talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.