American Muslim representation in elected office has lagged behind that of other groups of comparable size. Muslims now make up 2% of the total United States population and enjoy much larger concentrations in some urban areas. American Muslims are also disproportionately educated and enjoy a higher average socio-economic status than members of groups with similar numbers that have made strides in terms of political representation in our democracy. Yet Muslims have not made similar advances in the political arena. There are a number of reasons that might account for this situation. Here, we look at one possible explanation that is especially intriguing — and perhaps a bit troubling: the idea that voters make different causal attributions for the behavior of Muslim candidates for office. We employ an experimental design to examine the attributions participants use to “explain” the behavior of hypothetical Muslim and non-Muslim candidates. We conduct two experiments involving distinct political offices: State Attorney General and United States Senator. We find that respondents generally do not attribute behavior differently in the case of Muslim and Christian candidates, except in the case of lax prosecution of a terrorism case. Politically sophisticated respondents assume that a Muslim prosecutor who does not have a large Muslim constituency is sympathetic to Muslim terrorists, but not one with a larger Muslim voting base. Non-sophisticates attribute his behavior to such motivations regardless of the concentration of Muslims in his district.
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