(CN) – As Michigan Democrats hit the polls Tuesday, endorsements from the state’s considerable Muslim and Arab communities continue to pile up for the Jewish senator backed overwhelmingly by young voters.
In Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont, only 2 percent of the population practice Judaism, and not even a tenth of 1 percent practice Islam, according to the state’s most recent Pew poll.
That hasn’t stopped Sanders from landing the endorsements of the first Muslim congressman, the largest Arab-American newspaper and a prominent Palestinian-American activist.
Sanders’ message has resonated among young Muslims in particular, as shown by the poll touted last week by the Council for American-Islamic Relations.
After polling nearly 2,000 Muslim voters, CAIR found that 78 percent of Muslims between the ages of 18 and 24 favored Sanders, more than three and a half times the number favoring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Though Clinton led among Muslim voters of all ages – 47 percent to Sanders’ 25 percent – CAIR said “support for Sanders may actually be higher because its poll surveyed more voters over the age of 45.”
Discussing the results in a phone interview, CAIR’s government affairs director Robert McCaw said Clinton has an advantage among immigrant voters, who have known her name since the 1990s.
As with young voters around the country of other faiths, including no faith, who have rallied around the senator’s platform of loan forgiveness, universal health care and free college tuition, McCaw said young Muslims share the Sanders campaign’s “more idealistic approach to the social safety net.”
“To be another racial and religious minority running for office, I think especially young Muslims can identify with that,” he added.
Sanders spoke at the Democratic debate in Flint on Sunday of the profound impact his heritage has had on his life, recounting his Brooklyn upbringing among Holocaust survivors who still had tattoos from their time in Nazi concentration camps.
“I am very proud of being Jewish,” he said. “Being Jewish is so much of what I am.”
Sanders, who is the first and only non-Christian presidential candidate to win a primary, gained support early on in his campaign from U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the nation’s first Muslim congressman and a Congressional Black Caucus member.
Minnesota-based Ellison has been a steady Sanders surrogate since October, two months before Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s incendiary call for a pause in Muslim immigration.
Sanders responded to what he denounced as Trump’s “bigoted” plan by holding an interfaith dialogue late last year at Masjid Muhammad, a roughly 85-year-old Washington, D.C., mosque.
Ellison discussed that meeting Monday at a Sanders rally in Dearborn, where the 1,200-seat Michael A. Guido Theater appeared brimming with supporters.
“When the anti-Muslim hate was raging real ugly back in December, you all remember Trump was talking all of that stuff,” Ellison said, to loud boos from the crowd. “We had to explain to our children, ‘No, our neighbors don’t hate you. No, our neighbors actually do like you. It’s just that one weird guy over there.'”
After Ellison’s introduction, Sanders gave his usual condemnation of Trump’s rhetoric, before promising neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“All I can tell you is that I will make every single effort to bring rational people on both sides together, so that hopefully we can have, through a leveled playing field, the United States treating everybody in that region equally,” he said.
In its endorsement Friday, the Dearborn-based Arab-American News called Sanders’ platform “the most even-handed approach” to the strife.
Emphasizing that the “newspaper and the community at large do not have a bias against anyone’s ethnic or religious affiliation,” the editorial said “ideas are what matters.”
Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, whom The New York Times profiled as a “Brooklyn Homegirl in a Hijab,” credited Sanders’ record for “challenging the status quo for decades,” in a Facebook post announcing her support.
Though she did not return an email request to be interviewed about her pledge, Sarsour said in the post that her vote for Sanders will mean setting aside “ideological purity” for the sake of a “broader long-term vision.”
CAIR’s poll relied on the automated-survey provider CallFire to survey more than 1,850 Muslim voters, registered in both major parties, on March 1.
Of the Democratic voters, the large majority (27 percent) identified Islamophobia as their most important campaign issue over the economy (19 percent).
Economic concerns dominated for 38 percent of the Muslim minority identifying as Republicans, who mostly backed Trump by 11 percent, the poll found.
For Khaled Beydoun, an assistant law professor at Barry University, the ethnic and religious identities between the candidate and the voting blocks are irrelevant.
“The ‘Muslims voting for a Jew’ tagline is trite,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “Muslims voting for Bernie in #MichiganPrimary b/c of his progressive policies & outreach.”
The 2000 U.S. Census ranked Michigan as having the largest percentage of Muslims in the United States, but an independent study from five years ago reported by Huffington Post placed the Great Lakes State behind Illinois, Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Texas.
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