How the Muslim Left is shaping the future of the western Left
Expat Americans are urged to use their vote in Berlin. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)   

Our series examining the impact of Islam and Muslim voters on the Left in advanced democracies continues with this look at the cost of pandering to certain voter bases.

Debate over Muslim migration is upending politics across the Western world. Most such discussions involve fears that Islam’s tenets are incompatible with a liberal democratic or Christian society, or that restricting Muslim migration is itself unliberal. Very little talk, however, focuses on the potentially profound effect Muslim voters are already having on Western democracies.

Muslim voters throughout the West are already one of the Left’s bedrock constituencies. Regardless of the country, the available data regularly find Islamic voters supporting leftist parties at staggering rates with margins up to 7 or 8-1 over their more right-wing competitors1.

Their overwhelming support for one party or coalition combined with their rapid growth will give Muslim voters a strong influence on left-wing party stances

While their absolute numbers remain in most cases small, the number of Muslim voters is growing quickly almost everywhere. This combination of overwhelming support for one party or coalition combined with rapid growth is likely to give Muslim voters a strong influence on left-wing party stances.

In some cases, one can see they already have strong influence. Centre-left parties and leaders are much likelier than their centre-right counterparts to take a strongly sympathetic view towards the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel, for example. This could be a result of the views of the majority of their voters, but it could also be due to a recognition that this would help them with the growing Muslim vote. Migration is another example where centre-left and left-wing parties are distinctly friendlier to Muslim immigration and accepting refugees from Islamic countries than centre-right parties. Again, this is probably due to a combination of conviction and calculation, but centre-left parties and leaders know that Islamic refugees or migrants constitute a strong potential voter base for them.

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The Dutch Labor party discovered how abandoning this vote was detrimental its strength. It expelled two parliamentarians of Turkish origin after they refused to support the party’s policy towards integrating Islamic immigrants into Dutch society. These men formed a new party, Denk, and contested the 2017 elections on a staunchly pro-migrant and pro-Palestinian platform. Prior Islamic voter support for the Labor party collapsed, with over a third of Dutch voters of Turkish and Moroccan descent backing the new party. Denk won 2% of the vote and three seats in the Dutch Parliament, winning over 5% in each of the nation’s four largest cities2.

Denk’s platform provides one insight into the political views of many Islamic migrants in Europe3. It is for a vastly expanded social welfare system and increasing instruction in Arabic, Turkish, and other languages in schools. It wants to abolish the term “immigrant” and establish a racism register as it believes racism is endemic to Dutch society. It also seeks to abolish nuclear weapons and recognise the state of Palestine4. One founder went so far as to refuse to shake Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s hand at an official gathering in protest at his nation’s policies toward Palestinians.

Muslim influence on the Left could cause tensions within those parties on a host of cultural issues. In Australia’s recent referendum on same-sex marriage, for example, House seats with the highest concentration of Muslims were also the ones with the largest share of “no” votes5. Some prominent Muslim leaders actively campaigned against the referendum. These seats were ordinarily Labor strongholds, providing some of the party’s largest margins in the 2016 federal elections. While same-sex marriage is now a settled issue, other issues that pit social progressivism against Islamic tenets could pose similar divisions in the future for Leftist parties worldwide.

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Tensions over migration are already present, proving difficult for Leftist parties to overcome. As British Labour Party activist Marcus Roberts explained for UnHerd, the centre-left’s traditional voter base – low-skilled manual laborers – are at odds with those parties’ new educated, upscale backers on many cultural issues including migration. Were these parties to take even stronger pro-migrant views in response to their new-found voters, they would most probably push even more of these native-born but less-skilled voters away to either populist or eager centre-right parties. Muslim support, therefore, could come at a high cost for parties that receive it without careful forethought.

In that sense the Muslim Left could play a role not dissimilar to that played by the Christian Right in America. Evangelical Christians are the Republican Party’s largest support group. They comprise roughly 25% of American voters and regularly give Republicans between 70 and 80% of their votes in national elections6. These voters’ views on cultural issues, however, is anathema to a growing segment of moderate, educated young voters. Reaching out to these voters is in the Republican Party’s long-term interest, many argue, but doing so is proving to be difficult as the existing group of evangelical supporters insists the party stay true to its social conservatism. As Muslims grow in size, their increasingly large role in centre-left and Leftist parties will prove just as difficult to manage.

The Muslim Left exists and is here to stay. How they help to shape the future of the western Left will prove to be one of the next decade’s most important political developments.

FOOTNOTES
  1.  UK: British Muslim voters are among the most left-wing of any in the developed world, giving 85% of their votes in 2017 to Labour and only 11% to Conservatives.

    Sweden: A Swedish political scientist in 2009 estimated that 70-75% of Swedish Muslims backed the centre-left Social Democrats, and another 10-15% backed one of the two other parties in the red-green alliance.

    France: French Muslims gave the two main left-wing Presidential candidates, François Hollande and Jean-Luc Melenchon, 77% of their votes in the first round of the 2012 election (57% for Hollande, 20% for Melenchon). In 2017, 37 percent voted for Melenchon compared with 24% for Emmanuel Macron and 17% for Socialist Benoit Hamon. Only 15% voted for a right-wing candidate.

    USA: American Muslims say they back the back the Democratic Party by a 5-1 margin over the Republicans, and have given Democratic presidential candidates between 71 and 92% of their votes sine 2004.

    Germany: A pre-election survey found that over 64% of German voters with a migrant background, which included many non-Muslim German immigrants, supported one of the three left-wing parties. Support for left-wing parties was even higher among Germans with Turkish backgrounds: over 70% of Turkish Germans backed the Social Democrats while many others backed the Greens.

    Canada: Only 2% of Canadian Muslims supported the governing Conservative Party in the 2015 federal elections, according to one survey; 65% backed the centre-left Liberals while 10% backed the social democratic New Democratic Party. A poll after the 2011 federal election found that only 12% of Muslims backed the Conservatives, with 46% backing the Liberals and 38% backing the New Democrats.

  2.  Rotterdam (7.93%), Amsterdam (6.88%), the Hague (5.97%) and Utrecht (5.51%)
  3.  See also a questionnaire circulated by a German-Muslim group prior to the 2017 election for their preferences
  4.  All statements regarding Denk’s policies are taken from the “views” section of their website, as translated in Google Translate
  5.  Compare the results for the referendum  – with the religious preferences data from the Australian census
  6.  See 2008 election, 2012 election, and 2016 election
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