Over the past several election cycles, politics in the US has become extremely polarized. Based on electoral laws, votes for the president go to the candidate receiving the most votes in each of the 50 US states.
Consequently, states often get characterized as ‘red state’ meaning Republican, or ‘blue state’, meaning Democratic. These kinds of characterizations have an important impact on how national election campaigns are run. For example, in 2016 Donald Trump won the presidency by essentially flipping three traditionally blue states. He won these three states by a grand total of about 75,000 votes, and therefore won the national election by this small amount versus a total of over 125 million votes cast.
While states have been traditionally labeled red or blue, in recent years the political leanings of some states have started to change. For example, the state of Virginia, which was a solidly red state, has lately started to move towards blue. Such states are now being called ‘purple’. When we look at what is driving the shift, one can clearly see that it is being driven by changes in demographics.
The northern part of Virginia where bulk of state’s population is concentrated, due to its proximity to Washington DC has attracted a younger, better-educated and ethnically diverse population. Therefore, this part of Virginia now has a high concentration of highly educated Asians, many working in IT and other technology sectors. These voters tend to support the Democratic Party. This contrasts with large parts of Virginia that remain rural and sparsely populated and vote mostly “red”. So now it is possible for just a few counties in Virginia to impact results of the total state.
Another phenomenon since the election of Donald Trump has been a rapid increase in the number of immigrants or children of immigrants running for election for seats across all levels – from school board, to county and state positions, to members of Congress. State primary elections in Virginia were held just a few days ago on June 11, 2019. Among those winning their party’s nomination are names such as Ghazala Hashmi, Qasim Rashid, Suhas Subramanyam, and Rashid Sheikh; all of them candidates from the Democratic or ‘blue’ party.
Ethnic minorities, among them Muslims, have come to the realization that they not only have to vote in elections but also need to run for office so they may gradually get into positions with meaningful decision-making power. It was estimated that in the midterm elections of November 2018 more than 100 Muslims ran for various elected offices across the country. As a result, three Muslims were elected to US House of Representatives including two women, a first. To Muslims, participating in the American electoral democracy is not only a matter of civic duty, but could be important for the wellbeing of the community itself.
American democracy lends itself to representation by those who make an effort and participate in the system. It is complex and hard work. Candidates have to raise significant funds and organize campaigns. But as successful examples emerge, more and more members of ethnic minorities are encouraged to take the plunge. All minorities, but Muslims in particular, are joining political campaigns. It used to be that post-9/11 their Muslim identity could be a liability in the politically charged climate in the country. But the more Muslim names appear in the electoral arena, the more the American public starts to get used to them.
A race in the 2020 elections that I am closely watching is in the state of Georgia, a ‘deep red’ state. A candidate running for US House of Representatives from this state is named Nabilah Islam.
The writer is a freelancecontributor based inWashington DC. Website: www.sqshareef.com/ blogs