How Discrimination Impacts Sociopolitical Behavior:

How Discrimination Impacts Sociopolitical Behavior:

A Multidimensional Perspective

Kassra AR Oskooii

University of Washington

The conventional wisdom regarding the impact of discrimination on political behavior is that the perception of prejudiced treatment motivates individuals to take political action. This study challenges this common conception by demonstrating that the source of discrimination can play a significant role in whether perceived or experienced injustice leads to activism or withdrawal from sociopolitical life. Drawing from political science and social psychology literature, this study provides a new perspective on the potential effects of discrimination on a relatively new marginalized group in the United States. Specifically, an important distinction is drawn between political (systematic) and societal (interpersonal) discrimination in analyzing the sociopolitical behavior of American Muslims in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The results will hopefully encourage scholars to take a deeper look at the nexus between discrimination and democratic engagement, which is an important, complex, multidimensional, and understudied topic.

KEY WORDS: political discrimination, societal discrimination, sociopolitical behavior, Muslim-Americans

Over the course of American history, inegalitarian ideologies and practices have played a power- ful role in shaping the American political landscape (Smith, 1993). Whether in everyday social inter-

actions or decisions concerning matters related to sovereignty, citizenship, civil liberties, immigration,

and access to social, legal, and economic resources, various groups have been, and continue to be,

stigmatized and denied equal standing (Kim, 1999; Matthews and Prothro, 1966; Ngai, 2004; Smith,

1993). Yet, despite the historical and present prevalence of prejudice in both social and political

domains, the direct relationship between discrimination and sociopolitical behavior is still relatively

understudied. Discrimination is rarely the focal point of the most comprehensive studies related to the

civic and political engagement of minorities. Consequently, our understanding of how discrimination

affects the political behavior of marginalized individuals is limited.

The few studies that have explicitly focused on this important topic suggest that heightened

awareness of unfair treatment may motivate individuals from various racial and ethnic backgrounds to

take part in civic and political life for expressive or substantive purposes (e.g., Barreto & Woods,

2005; Cho, Gimpel, & Wu, 2006; Pantoja, Ramirez, & Segura, 2001; Ramakrishnan, 2005; Ramirez,

2007; Sanchez, 2006). This perspective, however, only presents one side of a multifaceted phenom-

enon, as existing investigations have either not distinguished between different types of discrimination

or have primarily focused on how hostile political contexts shape behavior without paying much


0162-895X VC 2015 International Society of Political Psychology

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Political Psychology, Vol. 37, No. 5, 2016 doi: 10.1111/pops.12279




attention to societal expressions of exclusion. 1

Epidemiological research conducted over the past three

decades problematize the implied link between discrimination and sociopolitical activism by discover-

ing that intolerance has alarming mental health consequences for numerous minority groups. Specifi-

cally, social psychologists have found that individuals exposed to mistreatment and intimidation in

social/interpersonal contexts on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religious affiliation exhibit feelings of

inferiority, insecurity, powerlessness, and depression (Branscombe, Schmitt, & Harvey, 1999; Dion &

Earn, 1975; Finch, Kolody, & Vega, 2000; Whitbeck, McMorris, Hoyt, Stubben, & LaFromboise,


Considering these adverse psychological outcomes, it is imperative to draw a distinction between

two overarching and conceptually distinct sources of discrimination—societal and political—and

assess their direct impact on democratic participation separately. In what follows, it will be argued

that the extent to which individuals are motivated to participate in the American democracy is, to

some degree, dependent on the type of discrimination to which they are exposed. Empirically, it will

be demonstrated that the perception of political discrimination is significantly linked to participation

in various sociopolitical activities while the perception of societal rejection is associated with political

acquiescence or behavioral alienation. Although existing work suggests that the awareness of undesir-

able social, economic, and political changes is usually met with defiance, it is important to note that

any act of resistance is more likely to occur among individuals who not only have the material resour-

ces, but also have the psychological fortitude to confront the status quo or unwelcomed changes. Peo-

ple who feel rejected due to persistent negative interpersonal encounters may be less inclined to

engage in politics because they are likely to internalize negative evaluations, resulting in a lowered

sense of self-worth, confidence, or belonging (Krieger, 1999). One consequence of such harmful soci-

opsychological mechanism is a state of “false consciousness,” the feeling that one is incapable of

bringing about social and political changes (see Jost, 1995). As such, it is not surprising that spending

one’s limited time and resources on the political process may become only an afterthought for the

most marginalized members of society—that is, those who perhaps not only view the political system

with pessimism due to the perceived institutional inequalities that their group faces, but also vividly

experience intolerance in their own communities perpetuated by rank-and-file members of the society.

To provide a more nuanced depiction of how discrimination impacts behavior, the following

study will also delineate between conventional/mainstream and ethnic-specific sociopolitical activ-

ities. Combining traditional political participation measures—such as voting or contacting a public

official—with “ingroup” or “ethnic-based” activities can muddle the relationship between discrimina-

tion and democratic engagement. While this study suggests that societal discrimination may decrease

the propensity of behavioral engagement, experiences of marginalization (political or social) may,

nevertheless, bring individuals from similar racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds together. Drawing

from social identity theory, it will be argued that marginalized individuals increase involvement with

their own immediate community (ingroup) even if they feel disempowered, dissatisfied, or disengaged

from mainstream politics due to their negative interpersonal experiences.

To test the proposed claims, the American Muslims population has been selected for analysis. 2

Muslim-Americans were chosen for two principal reasons. The first reason is contextual in nature in

that American Muslims have been subjected to extensive levels of prejudice since the terrorist attacks

of 9/11 (Cainkar, 2002; Edgell, Gerteis, & Hartmann, 2006). As such, the widespread discriminatory

treatment of Muslims in airports, places of business, mosques, community groups, and neighborhoods

across the country provide an opportunity to sufficiently evaluate the impact of not just political, but

1 In circumstances in which both measures of political and societal discrimination were accounted for, their impact on civic and political participation were not separately measured. On the contrary, various types of discrimination meas- ures, when available, are often combined to form all-encompassing (broad) discrimination scales.

2 In this study, the terms “American Muslims” or “Muslim-Americans” are used to refer to both citizen and noncitizen Muslims residing in the United States.

614 Oskooii



also societal, discrimination on engagement. Second, despite the sharp rise in prejudice toward Ameri-

can Muslims in the past decade, scholars have largely ignored the consequences discrimination has

had on this population’s involvement in sociopolitical affairs.

Three specific reasons underscore why more research on Muslim-Americans is needed. From a

normative standpoint, one of the core principles in a democratic society is the equal consideration of

the welfare and preferences of all citizens (Verba, 2003). If some citizens are unable or unwilling to participate in politics due to sociopolitical alienation, they may be denied access to crucial resources

and opportunities. Further, a focus on the current status of Muslims in the United States is valuable

because it can shed light on broader issues concerning prejudice in America, which are relevant to

other minority groups. Drawing parallels or recognizing dissimilarities between Muslim-Americans

and other groups such as African Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latinos can increase our overall

understanding of how discrimination impacts political behavior in specific, and democratic longevity

in general. And lastly, it is important to note that Islam—the fasted growing religion in the world—is

rapidly increasing the number of its adherents in the United States (Jamal, 2005; Leonard, 2003). The

number of Muslims in the United States is projected to increase from an estimated 2.6 million in 2010

to 6.2 million by 2030, meaning that Islam will surpass Judaism and become the second largest reli-

gion behind only Christianity (Pew Research Center, 2011). All these reasons suggest that more

research on this rapidly growing population is not only increasingly necessary, but also useful in better

understanding how discrimination impacts democratic engagement.

The present article is divided into five sections. First, a detailed definition of societal and political

discrimination will be offered. Next, a review of existing scholarship on the potential consequences of

discrimination on political behavior and psychological well-being will be presented to set the theoreti-

cal framework. Then, a deeper explanation for why American Muslims were selected for this research

endeavor will be given followed by a detailed discussion of the data, methodology, and empirical find-

ings. Before concluding, the proposed theory will be further evaluated by exploring the connection

between discrimination and an indicator of psychological well-being.

Defining Political and Societal Discrimination

Before evaluating discrimination’s effect on sociopolitical agency or lack thereof, it is important

to clearly define what constitutes political and societal discrimination and explain why this specific

distinction is useful. 3

The word discrimination on its own refers to drawing a distinction—by judg- ment or action—in favor or against a person or group based on various sociocultural or biological identifiers such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexuality (OED Online). To “discriminate

against” is the act of treating a person as a second-class citizen or inferior, distrustful, or undeserving

of equality. Discrimination is multidimensional and can be perpetrated by a diverse array of actors.

Individuals (e.g., neighbors, colleagues, or classmates), nonstate institutions (e.g., religious and private

organizations), and the state and its institutions (e.g., public schools, criminal justice system, or law-

making bodies) can all be culprits of domination (Krieger, 1999). Unfair treatment may be expressed

in a multitude of ways. These include: overt (or blatant/direct), covert (or subtle/indirect), legal, and

illegal methods (Essed, 1991; Kinder & Sears, 1981; Krieger, 1999). The potential responses to preju-

dice can be described as protective or destructive. In general, subjects of discrimination either engage

in active resistance or internalize oppression (Krieger, 1999). Resistance ranges from actively chal-

lenging the status quo through political participation or joining civic organizations to creating safe

spaces for the purpose of self-affirmation. In contrast, victims of discrimination may engage in

3 In defining discrimination, this article draws heavily from Nancy Krieger’s (1999) Embodying Inequality: A Review of Concepts, Measures, and Methods for Studying Health Consequences of Discrimination. Her work on conceptualizing discrimination is extremely important and has provided a key source of motivation for this study.

Discrimination and Sociopolitical (Dis) Engagement 615



behaviors that are detrimental to their overall well-being. Targets of discrimination may internalize

acts of subjugation by accepting their inferior status (refraining from any measures of defiance),

engage in denial, and/or cope with their negative experiences by abusing legal or illegal substances

(Gibbons, Gerrard, Cleveland, Willis, & Brody, 2004; Guthrie, Young, Williams, Boyd, & Kintner,

2002; Krieger, 1999).

Nearly all types of discrimination can be divided into two overarching, yet conceptually distinct

categories: political or societal. Although the usage of these terms varies, political discrimination (or institutional or systematic discrimination) typically refers to discriminatory laws, campaign messages,

policies, or practices carried out by state or private institutions and/or their affiliated actors. Within

the U.S. context, examples range from Jim Crow and anti-immigration laws to the general racializa-

tion of minorities in political campaigns (e.g., portraying African Americans as unintelligent, lazy,

and prone to violence). Societal discrimination (or interpersonal discrimination) refers to discrimina- tory interactions between individuals in public or private settings. The most common example is char-

acter assault, such as being treated as inferior, dishonest, dangerous, or unintelligent. Individuals can

experience such discrimination while walking to work or school, shopping, eating at a restaurant, or

attending public events (Essed, 1991). Another less common but certainly more severe example of

societal discrimination is physical threat or assault.

Historical and contemporary examples of political discrimination such as Jim Crow laws, Califor-

nia’s mid-1990s anti-immigration propositions, the infamous 2001 USA Patriot Act, or Arizona’s SB

1070 have a number of commonalties that set them conceptually apart from societal/interpersonal

types of discrimination. Political discrimination is often formal, systematic (wide scale), organized,

and group-oriented in nature—and gets perpetuated at the macrolevel. Policies, laws, rules, and cam- paign messages are intended to influence a group of people based on specific or broad categories such

as race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, income, or disability. More specifically, political discrimi-

nation can be viewed as frames or projects that attempt to interpret, represent, or explain group

dynamics and reorganize or redistribute various resources along sociocultural markers, characteristics,

or lines (Haney-Lopez, 2000; Omi & Winant, 1986). In contrast, various forms of societal discrimina-

tion such as character assaults, threats, or vandalism are often informal (not systematic), individually targeted hostility disseminated by rank-and-file members of society not affiliated with larger systems or institutions. Societal discrimination or exclusion occurs primarily at the microlevel, often directly

experienced on the street, in shops, at schools, or other public and private spaces where individuals

interact with one another. It typically refers to overt acts of discrimination by one person against

another. Political and societal discrimination should be measured and analyzed separately precisely

because they capture distinctly dissimilar dimensions of discrimination in general, which is a broad,

complex, and multifaceted concept.

Starting with this distinction is also useful for another important reason: these concepts, while

distinct, capture a number of themes that other scholars have considered when examining discrimi-

nation. When scholars refer to “group-oriented” discrimination, they typically refer to cases of

institutional, systematic, or “political” discrimination. Likewise, an analysis of “individual-level”

discrimination usually denotes “societal” or “interpersonal” discrimination, although this is not

always clear. At times, individual discrimination is understood as the type of awareness or severity

of discrimination, such as directly experienced verse indirectly perceived, rather than the source of

discrimination, which could be political or societal. This study eliminates any confusion by clearly

defining societal discrimination as discrimination between members of the public, which is, more

often than not, directly experienced rather than indirectly perceived. In contrast, political discrimi-

nation means systematic, group-oriented discrimination, which can be directly experienced or indi-

rectly perceived depending on the context. For instance, a Muslim-American person can indirectly

perceive the post-9/11 security policies to be targeting his group by simply paying attention to the

news without having personally experienced any racial profiling. In this case, personal experience

616 Oskooii



with policy implementation is not necessarily a prerequisite to perceiving discrimination in the

political arena.

Although the examination of discrimination on sociopolitical behavior is the focus of this study,

less recognizable, but perhaps equally consequential, acts of prejudice are also prevalent and deserve

to be mentioned and studied. Krieger (1999) accurately points out that while some experiences with

discrimination are obvious, others are more invisible and hard to recognize. This is especially the case

in the post-civil-rights era, where outright expressions of bigotry have become increasingly taboo

(Kinder & Sears, 1981). One may be denied a mortgage, an apartment, a business permit, admission

to a club, or given a lower salary without realizing that the basis for such actions are related to factors

associated with one’s race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. While it is beyond the scope of

this study to assess the effect of covert discrimination on democratic engagement, future research

must also take into consideration the consequences of subtle or even unrecognizable bigotry. Never-

theless, it is certainly clear that the aforementioned covert forms of discrimination contribute to the

income and education gap between Whites and minorities, which, in turn, help explain some of the

aggregate political participation disparities based on race over time. 4

A New Theoretical Perspective

Reasons for Participation: Discrimination as a Motivator?

The study of political behavior has received extensive attention by social scientists. Several major

theories have been developed to explain why some individuals engage in politics whereas others do

not. The conventional view is that political activity is a function of at least three factors: individual-

level resources, recruitment, and psychological orientations. For instance, based on Verba, Schloz-

man, and Brady’s (1995) civic voluntarism model, Rosenstone and Hansen’s (1993) account of politi-

cal mobilization and participation, and standard socioeconomic status models (Verba & Nie, 1972;

Verba, Nie, & Kim, 1978), we know that older citizens of higher socioeconomic strata and those who

are asked to take part in politics participate more. 5

While these theories explain who is most likely to participate, they do not, however, sufficiently explain why and under what circumstances individuals are likely to spend their time, skills, and resources on the political process. For most people, political activity seems rather remote considering

the many responsibilities and distractions of everyday life (Dahl, 1961). Despite having an abundance

of resources, some individuals may not take interest in politics (Gamson, 1968). Hence, scholars have

determined that in addition to attitudinal determinants of political activism—such as strength of party

attachment, amount of political trust, interest, and efficacy, and the strength of people’s issue attitudes

(Almond & Verba, 1963; Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960; McCluskey, Deshpande,

Shah, & McLeod, 2004; Verba et al., 1995)—political context plays a critical role in understanding

psychological motivations behind political involvement. Specifically, a key impetus for political

mobilization is the awareness of undesirable political conditions or political threat. Research demon-

strates that individuals are especially likely to take action when posed with a direct or indirect threat

4 Political participation gaps are especially prominent when one compares turnout rates between Whites, African Amer- icans, and Hispanics without controlling for socioeconomic resources.

5 Specifically, higher levels of education and income translate into more political participation through acquiring civic skills and connections to social networks that foster mobilization. For immigrant populations, individual-level factors such as nativity, length of time in the United States, language proficiency, and racial identity are significant predictors of political participation (Ramakrishnan, 2005; Wong, 2000). Further, institutional/group-based resources such as political parties, civic organizations, unions, and places of worship are also important catalyst to political activism (e.g., Campbell et al., 1960; Harris, 1994; Putnam, 2000; Tate, 1993; Verba et al., 1995; Wong, 2006).

Discrimination and Sociopolitical (Dis) Engagement 617



toward their material self-interests, well-being, or values (Campbell, 2003; Marcus, Neuman, &

McKuen, 2000; Miller & Krosnick, 2004).

Extending the political threat theory to members of marginalized groups, it becomes apparent

that undesirable social, economic, and political conditions have also motivated racial or ethnic minor-

ities to take political action. Historically, African Americans have shown a long tradition of confront-

ing political apparatuses of racism despite considerable barriers to participation. Even when highly

dissatisfied with the political process and alienated from the political system, many African Ameri-

cans have mobilized and challenged unfair, immoral, and illegitimate government practices to gain

equality and inclusion in the United States (Dawson, 1994; Matthews & Prothro, 1966; McAdam,

1982; Parker, 2009). In fact, shared racial identity, as well as historical and contemporary experiences

of unequal treatment, have fostered a sense of group commonality and linked fate among African

Americans, translating into political cohesiveness on a number of policy issues (Dawson, 1994; Tate,


Responses to anti-immigration initiatives also provide illuminating examples of how perceived

political discrimination is linked to political mobilization. Pantoja et al. (2001) have found that

recently naturalized Latino immigrants in California’s anti-immigration (propositions 187, 209, and

227) environment of the 1990s had high rates of voter registration and turnout, whereas those who

naturalized in more neutral political contexts, such as Florida, had much lower levels of participation. 6

Similarly, several other studies have demonstrated that anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation in vari-

ous settings is associated with political action among multiple immigrant-based populations (Barreto

& Woods, 2005; Cho et al., 2006; Ramakrishnan, 2005; Ramirez, 2007).

Although political scientists have, to a certain extent, empirically investigated how individual

behavior is shaped by the apprehension of politically threatening circumstances, an analysis of how

socially hostile contexts impact behavior is inadequately explored. 7

Societal discrimination has pri-

marily been the focus of social psychologists. This is evidenced by a growing body of quantitative

population-based studies of various racial and ethnic groups, which have drawn a direct link between

social exclusion and mental health impairments (see Mays, Cochran, & Barnes, 2007; Paradies, 2006;

Pascoe & Richman, 2009; Williams & Mohammed, 2009). For example, in an examination of mental

well-being among Southeast Asians in Canada, Noh, Beiser, Kaspar, Hou, and Rummens (1999) dis-

covered that experiences of interpersonal racial discrimination were correlated with self-reported

depressive symptoms. Societal discrimination (e.g., whether the respondent has been called deroga-

tory or insulting names, treated disrespectfully, or excluded from various social activities) has also

been linked to feelings of inferiority among Native American, Mexican-American, and African Amer-

ican adults (Banks, Kohn-Wood, & Spencer, 2006; Finch et al., 2000; Whitbeck et al., 2002).

Research further demonstrates that individuals stigmatized by dominant group members tend to inter-

nalize negative evaluations, which can subsequently translate into lower levels of self-esteem (Leary,

Terdal, Tambor, & Downs, 1995; Verkuyten, 1998).

Overall, the common theme that emerges from these studies raises an important question for the

study of discrimination and democratic engagement. If experiences with interpersonal discrimination

can lead to feelings of powerlessness, insecurity, or unhappiness, can such negative psychological

mindsets impact sociopolitical behavior? Will victims of societal discrimination be less inclined to get

involved in mainstream avenues of political engagement than those who have not fallen victim to

prejudicial treatment? In what follows, the present study aims to answer these questions by analyzing

the Muslim-American experience with both societal and political discrimination since the terrorist

6 Proposition 187 rolled back state services for undocumented immigrants (1994); Proposition 209 sought to end affirm- ative action in public institutions (1996); and Proposition 227 ended bilingual education programs in public schools (1998).

7 One notable exception is Schildkraut’s (2005) research on discrimination, identity, and Latino political behavior. She finds that experiences with interpersonal discrimination could actually lead to behavioral alienation.

618 Oskooii



attacks of 9/11. Before that, the next section will provide a concise theoretical framework to further

explain why experiences with or perceptions of political and societal discrimination may have dissimi-

lar impacts on sociopolitical behavior.

The Proposed Relationship Between Discrimination and Sociopolitical Behavior

When faced with injustice, various minority groups have displayed higher rates of political partic-

ipation. Several viable reasons help explain why heightened awareness of political discrimination

may facilitate participation. The most compelling answer is the desire to bring about change or pre-

vent adverse policies to be considered or implemented. Discrimination in the political sphere can lead

people to develop strong feelings of group attachment, linked fate, or group consciousness as citizens

are treated differently based on certain sociocultural group-based markers (Dawson, 1994; Miller, Gurin, Gurin, & Malanchuk, 1981; Olson, 1965; Stokes, 2003; Tate, 1993; Verba & Nie, 1972). One

product of group attachment is the emergence of a “collective orientation” (Garcia, 2003), which

makes it more likely for individuals to challenge institutions that violate notions of equality and fair-

ness embedded within the American political culture. Political discrimination is also group oriented in

nature, which means ethnic-based organizations can more easily mobilize individuals around salient

group issues (Wong, 2006). Beyond instrumental reasons, individuals may also engage in politics for

emotional and expressive purposes. For some, participation sends a symbolic message, serving as a

valuable tool to constructively express anger, frustration, or discontent.

H1: American Muslims who perceived post 9/11 security policies to be implemented discriminatorily (aware of political discrimination) are more likely to report increased involvement in politics than those who did not perceive any discrimination (see Figure 1).

While perceptions of political discrimination could serve as a mobilizing force, the opposite may

be true for individuals exposed to societal discrimination. The aforementioned epidemiological studies

highlighted that low self-esteem, hopelessness, and depression among various minority groups is a

byproduct of experiences with societal rejection. Whether one is intentionally ignored while waiting

to be served at a restaurant, verbally threatened at school, or physically assaulted on the way to work,

the accumulation of these negative encounters are likely to make one feel devalued, unhappy, or insig-

nificant. As a consequence, targets of societal prejudice may be more pessimistic than their counter-

part to believe that they can effectively challenge inequality or that their voices are even heard (Jost,

1995). Without feeling that one is capable of bringing about social or political change, citizens will

likely become indifferent to or disheartened with the democratic process. A plethora of research dem-

onstrates that among various political outlooks, the belief that one’s actions can have a meaningful

impact on political outcomes is a particularly important factor shaping political involvement (e.g.,

Abramson & Aldrich, 1982; Almond & Verba, 1963; Guterbock & London, 1983; McCluskey et al.,

2004; Michelson, 2000). 8

When one considers the political mobilization of African Americans prior to and during the

civil rights movement, it is often assumed that African Americans from various backgrounds chal-

lenged White supremacy. However, this is not the case. Gary Marx finds that Blacks raised in the

deep South were much less likely to confront oppression than those who were raised in the North

because they did not possess the “. . .necessary psychological outlook [morale, sophistication, and

8 Although no research has explored the specific link between societal discrimination and efficacy, a few studies sug- gest that mental health impairments such as symptoms of depression are linked to lower self-efficacy (Maciejewski, Prigerson, & Mazure, 2000; Smith & Betz, 2002). Specifically, depression and self-efficacy are related in that “depression is associated with beliefs that one will not be able to achieve important goals in important spheres of life” (Barone, Maddux, & Snyder, 1997, p. 268.

Discrimination and Sociopolitical (Dis) Engagement 619



pride in self] to support and encourage militancy” (1967, p. 93). Similarly, Parker (2009) finds that

the reason Black servicemen, more than other southerners, risked physical harm and economic hard-

ship to contest White supremacy was because their military experiences furnished them with a sense

of entitlement and increased self-confidence. Deprived of such psychological strength, their behavior

would have likely mirrored other similarly situated southerners. What this suggests is that individu-

als who feel especially marginalized or rejected due to their negative societal experiences may

decide to adapt to the exclusionary circumstances and avoid challenging their deprived position in


H2: American Muslims who report having experienced societal discrimination will be less likely to participate in mainstream political activities than their counterparts.

Although victims of societal discrimination may not feel inclined to take part in political activities

possibly due to feelings of powerlessness, there is some indication that they will be more likely to seek

out members of their own community for reaffirmation. According to social identity theory, the recog-

nition of prejudiced treatment by the dominant group can increase identification with one’s ingroup

(Tajfel & Tuner, 1986). The Rejection-Identification Model also posits that members of marginalized

groups cope with the pain of prejudice by increasing identification with their disadvantaged group

(Branscombe et al., 1999). Stigmatization increases the desire for group attachment because such

ingroup identification may be the best possible approach for feeling accepted. A devalued young Mus-

lim may gravitate towards the local Islamic center because it is a safe and welcoming environment

Discrimination Making a judgment or taking an action

in favor or against a person or group

Ingroup Involvement

Participation in Ethnic/ Racial Dominant Civic or Religious Organizations

Mainstream Activism

• Electoral Participation • Contact/Petition

Government • Campaign Contribution • Volunteer in Campaigns

Societal Discriminatory interactions

between individuals in public or private settings.

Individually targeted, unsystematic, and


Political Discriminatory laws,

policies, or practices carried out by state or private

institutions. Group- oriented, systematic, and


Figure 1. The hypothesized nexus between discrimination and sociopolitical behavior.

620 Oskooii



that can help stigmatized individuals to cope with feelings of rejection. 9

Muslim-Americans who per-

ceived political discrimination may likewise seek to engage in their ethnic or religious-based commu-

nity organizations. The mosque, just like churches, can be a great place to not only talk about salient

political issues, but also to organize people to improve the group’s position in society. 10

H3: Individuals who perceived political discrimination will be more likely to attend ingroup activities than those who did not perceive any discrimination.

H4: Individuals who perceived societal discrimination are more likely to engage in ingroup activities than individuals who had not perceived such discrimination.

Case Selection: Muslim-Americans in the Post 9/11 Era

The widespread discrimination that Muslim-Americans face in the contemporary political and

social environment makes this population well suited for this study. Historically, Muslims in the

United States and the West have been portrayed very negatively in the media and political discourse

and are often associated with violence, oppression, and radicalism (Esposito, 1999; Said, 1997; Sha-

heen, 2001). After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, stereotypical views of Muslims only strengthened, wor-

sening Americans’ perceptions of Muslims (Cainkar, 2002; Howell & Shryock, 2003). Today,

Americans rate Muslims more negatively than nearly all other religious or racial groups (Edgell et al.,

2006; Putnam & Campbell, 2010). As a result, Muslims are facing a rising tide of discrimination in

communities across the United States. According to the 2002 FBI Uniform Crime Report, shortly after

9/11 hate crimes against Muslim-Americans increased by 1,600% (Serrano, 2002). A decade later, the

rate of hate crimes against Muslims has not returned to the pre-9/11 numbers. In fact, between 2009

and 2010, a year in which Muslims and mosques across the country came under substantial social and

political scrutiny (see Wajahat et al., 2011), the FBI reported a 50% increase in hate crimes against

Muslims. 11

In March 2011, the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights, Thomas Perez, testi-

fied in front of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, Civic Rights, and Human

Rights, that in each city and town where he has met with Muslims, he has been “. . .struck by the fear that pervades their [Muslims] lives” (Morgan, 2011). According to Perez, Muslim youth often fall vic-

tim to schoolyard bullying and harassment, and their parents increasingly find themselves targets of

discrimination in the workplace. 12

Discrimination toward Muslim-Americans is certainly not just prevalent in neighborhoods, places

of business, at work, or in schools across the country. Concerns over the war on terrorism have

resulted in the enactment and implementation of several controversial national security policies.

Nearly a month after 9/11, the 107 th

Congress passed the USA Patriot Act of 2001. This act granted

government officials expansive investigative authority such as the ability to conduct secret searches

and to detain or deport individuals judged to be a “threat” to the United States. Shortly after the USA

Patriot Act, Congress also established the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) aimed at

increasing the monitoring of airplane passengers. Since the establishment of the TSA, frequent

9 With time, victims of societal discrimination who partake in ingroup activities could overcome negative feelings and start embracing the idea of getting involved in mainstream political events. Panel data is required to appropriately test this relationship.

10 This study does not measure the impact of discrimination on group identification due to a lack of precise questions in both the 2007 Pew and 2007–2008 MAPOS datasets.

11 In recent years, 53 proposed mosques and Islamic centers have encountered community resistance. For more informa- tion on efforts to interfere with the construction of mosques and Islamic centers in the United States, visit: http://fea-

12 The statement of Thomas E. Perez is available online at: perez-testimony-re-protecting-the-civil-rights-of-muslim-americans.pdf

Discrimination and Sociopolitical (Dis) Engagement 621



incidences of racially targeted searches and questioning in airports have popularized the phrase “flying

while Muslim” among journalists and civil rights advocates.

In addition to the wrongful detention, deportation, and racial profiling of Muslim-Americans in

the United States, the Associated Press recently found evidence of a spying campaign aimed at Mus-

lim individuals and institutions conducted by the New York Police Department (NYPD). Four Associ-

ated Press investigative reporters found that the NYPD secretly built one of the largest domestic

intelligence agencies in the country intended to catalog where Muslims work, shop, and pray (Green-

wald, 2012). In particular, the reporters documented how “Plainclothes officers from the NYPD’s

Demographics Unit fanned out across Newark, taking pictures and eavesdropping on conversations

inside businesses owned or frequented by Muslims. . .” (Greenwald, 2012) to compile a guide to New- ark’s Muslims. The NYPD also created a list of devout Muslims to watch, treated name changes as

worthy of investigation, and placed informants inside mosques. Despite extensive surveillance of hun-

dreds of Muslims and the infiltration of dozens of mosques and student groups, the NYPD dossier

cited no evidence of terrorism or criminal behavior.

In response to the surveillance program and consistent with the argument that political discrimi-

nation ignites participation, an estimated five hundred Muslim-Americans gathered for Friday prayer

service in lower Manhattan Park and marched to New York Police headquarters chanting,

“Surveillance is violence, we won’t remain silent!” During the protest, Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid,

addressing the crowed, stated that “We are unapologetically Muslim and uncompromisingly Ameri-

can,” and asked Mayor Michel Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to respect Mus-

lims. In addition to the demonstration, a coalition of Muslim organizations and their supporters sent a

letter to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the state Attorney General asking for a speedy inves-

tigation into the extent of NYPD spying activities. And more recently, a group of New Jersey resi-

dents, mosques, and organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York, accusing the

NYPD of violating their constitutional rights by targeting them on the basis of religion.

In short, no racial, ethnic, or religious group has been subjected to societal and political discrimi-

nation to the degree that Muslim-Americans have been exposed to since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the last decade, this population has experienced unprecedented surges in hate crimes, workplace dis-

crimination, and the infringement of civil liberties. These experiences provide an ideal platform to

begin examining the direct relationship between discrimination and sociopolitical behavior in much

more detail than previous studies have been able to investigate. 13


Two national surveys, the 2007–2008 Muslim American Public Opinion survey (MAPOS) and

the 2007 Pew Research Center Study of American Muslims, have been selected to assess the impact

of political and social discrimination on sociopolitical behavior. MAPOS was fielded outside 22 ran-

domly selected mosques and Islamic centers in the East, West, and Midwest, as well as the major

Muslim population centers in the United States. 14

Participants were selected using a traditional skip

pattern to randomize recruitment. The survey was administered in an exit-poll format whereby trained

research assistants handed paper questionnaires to selected individuals who then completed the survey

13 Nevertheless, since discrimination is usually not one of the primary interests of survey researchers and because dis- crimination is a very complex concept, data limitations persist. For example, many surveys about politics do not con- tain any questions regarding experiences with or perceptions of societal discrimination.

14 Cities in which surveys were conducted were Dearborn, MI; Seattle, WA; San Diego, CA; Irvine, CA; Riverside, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Raleigh-Durham, NC; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Houston, TX; Washington D.C.; and Oklahoma City, OK. A large number of the surveys were gathered outside the prayers services during Eid al Adha and Eid al Fitr, which are events similar to religious services for Christmas and Easter Mass. This makes sure that both devout and secular Muslims are included in the sample. A response rate was not recorded because research assistants were unable to keep track of individuals who refused to participate in the study.

622 Oskooii



on their own. In total, 1,410 self-administered surveys were completed in English, Arabic, or Farsi. 15

The 2007 Pew Survey of Muslims was conducted by telephone between January 24 and April 20,

2007 using a nationally representative random sample. The 1,050 self-identified adult Muslims who

completed the survey were given the opportunity to answer questions in English, Arabic, Urdu, or

Farsi. 16

Both surveys cover a wide range of topics related to religious, social, and political issues and

are quite representative of the overall American Muslim population, containing a large number of

Arab, African-American, Asian, and foreign-born respondents. Table 1 provides a comparison of

some key demographic characteristics of the two surveys. 17

The rationale for using Pew and MAPOS is to adequately test the study’s hypotheses and to

assess the generalizability of the findings across two datasets. Since secondary data is being used to

investigate an understudied topic, each survey has key limitations. While the Pew survey contains sev-

eral precise questions to construct suitable political and societal discrimination variables, it only asks

respondents whether they are registered voters and whether they have voted in the 2004 presidential

election. The absence of nontraditional political participation measures effectively eliminates nonciti-

zen Muslims (23% of the sample) from the analysis. MAPOS compensates for this limitation by ask-

ing respondents not only if they have voted, but also if they have participated in a protest/rally, wrote

a letter to a public official, or attended a community meeting between the years of 2006 to 2008. How-

ever, the drawback with MAPOS is that it does not ask any precise questions regarding experiences

with societal discrimination.

Variable Specification and Descriptive Statistics

Dependent Variables

The MAPOS dataset was first used to evaluate the effect of political discrimination on four types

of political activities: self-reported voting, participation in a protest/rally, attendance in a community

meeting, and contact with a government representative (coding and distributions of all the variables

are presented in Tables 6 and 7 in the online supporting information. Among the entire sample, which

includes citizen and noncitizen respondents, 27% attended a protest/rally, 47% participated in a

Table 1. Comparison of Pew and MAPOS Surveys

MAPOS (07-08) Pew (2007)

Arab 44% 25%

Asian 24% 18%

Black 16% 24%

Sunni 65% 50%

Shi’a 11% 16%

U.S. Born 45% 35%

Foreign Born 55% 65%

Citizen 73% 75%

Voted 64% 59%

N 1,410 1,050

15 For more detailed information about MAPOS, visit

16 The average margin of sampling error of the completed surveys is 1/2 5 percentage points (95% CI). A response rate of 27% was achieved for list sample, 58% for the recontact sample, and 29% for RDD sample. For more detailed info about the survey, visit:

17 The discrepancy in the percentage of Arabs between Pew and MAPOS is largely due to the way Pew recruited partici- pants and asked about the race of respondents. While the MAPOS survey had an “Arab” option under the race cate- gory, the Pew study did not. As a result, a good portion of third-generation Arab respondents may have self-identified as “other” or “White.”

Discrimination and Sociopolitical (Dis) Engagement 623



community activity, and 33% wrote a letter to a public official. As for electoral participation, 61% of

all citizens indicated that they had voted in the 2006 or 2008 November elections. 18

The Pew Survey was then utilized to estimate the effect of political and societal discrimination

on self-reported voter registration status, turnout, and participation in mosque activities beyond prayer

(ingroup involvement measure). Respondents were asked whether they are registered to vote in their

precinct or election district and whether they have voted in the 2004 presidential election between

George W. Bush and John Kerry. Among the citizens, who composed 58% of the sample, 69% regis-

tered to vote and 59% voted—71% chose Kerry and 14% voted for Bush. The ingroup involvement

variable was constructed by assigning a 1 to respondents who indicated that they took part in religious

and social activities at the mosque or Islamic center outside of Salah and Jum’ah prayer (32%) and a

0 to those who did not engage in mosque activities beyond prayer (68%). In the United States, mosque

activities outside of prayer service can range from Islamic study and Arabic classes to programs for

women and youth, fitness/sports classes, and parenting and marriage courses. This means that the

mosque provides more services than just religiously oriented activities.

Key Independent Variables

The key independent variables are political and societal discrimination. In the MAPOS models,

political discrimination was measured using the following question: “Do you think the new security

measures at U.S. airports are targeted at Muslims or at all Americans equally?” Approximately 75% of

the respondents perceived the security measures to be implemented in a biased manner. As indicated

earlier, a reliable measure of societal discrimination does not exist in the MAPOS dataset. The only

remotely related question invites respondents to conflate perceptions of systematic (political) discrimi-

nation with interpersonal (societal) discrimination. Respondents were asked to what extent they think

discrimination against immigrants is a problem in today’s society. This question is not only vague, it also does not ask individuals to consider whether discrimination is a problem for Muslims in specific.

The Pew dataset, however, has several detailed questions that were combined to compose a soci-

etal discrimination variable ranging from 0 to 3 (a 5 0.55). Specifically, respondents were asked the following questions: “Have people acted as if they are suspicious of you because you are Muslim?”;

“Have you been called offensive names because you are a Muslim?”; and “Have you been physically

threatened or attacked because you are a Muslim?” The distribution of this variable is heavily skewed

to the left tail with 71% of respondents not reporting any form of societal discrimination. About one-

fifth (19%) of the sample reported one type of social discrimination, 8% two types, and 2% three

types of discrimination. As for political discrimination, individuals were asked if they have been

singled out by airport security because they are Muslim. 19

Close to one-out-of-five respondents

answered in the affirmative to this question.

Control Variables

An examination of discrimination and sociopolitical behavior must account for a variety of alter-

native explanations. The first set of variables for which this research controls for are sociodemo-

graphic indicators. These include age, education, income, race, gender, and nativity (U.S. vs. foreign-

born). Previous work has demonstrated that older, more educated, and wealthier individuals are not

only better positioned to comprehend and access information about political issues, but they are also

situated in social environments that further enhance communication and organization capabilities

(civic skills) crucial to democratic engagement (Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993; Verba & Nie, 1972;

18 Each of the participation measures ranges from 0 (inactivity) to 1 (activity).

19 Only respondents who have traveled were included.

624 Oskooii



Verba et al., 1978; Wolfinger & Rosenstone, 1980). Gender could also play an important role when

assessing the political engagement of Muslims. 20

Wearing the headscarf, or hijab, could expose

women to greater scrutiny, and Muslim women may be less involved in politics than men due largely

to conservative notions of women’s proper role within the household and the community (Jalalzai,

2009). However, recent empirical studies have not found any significant differences between the polit-

ical participation of Muslim men and women in the United States (Ayers & Hofstetter, 2008; Dana,

Barreto, & Oskooii, 2011; Jamal, 2005). Nativity is also accounted for because first-generation immi-

grants are likely to have less exposure to democratic practices (especially those from restrictive soci-

eties), be less acclimated to the American political system, and feel less entitled to confront acts of

discrimination than their U.S.-born counterpart. 21

In addition to standard demographic controls, measures of political interest and partisanship were

also incorporated. In the Pew sample, political interest was measured by asking respondents whether

they subscribe to a weekly newspaper. Participants in the MAPOS survey were asked how closely

they followed news about candidates and initiatives in the 2006 or 2008 elections. Party attachment

was measured by creating a dummy variable (no partisanship 5 1) that separates individuals who do

not identify with a party from those who identify with or lean towards the Democratic or Republican

Party—in both datasets about 25% were nonaffiliates. Both of these measures serve as important con-

trols. Those with higher levels of political interest and attentiveness tend to be more active in sociopo-

litical affairs (Miller et al., 1981; Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993) and also are more likely to be aware of

policies that target Muslims negatively. Party identification is strongly linked to political engagement

because individuals who identify with a political party are more likely to vote, attend campaign meet-

ings, and organize voter registration drives than those with weak or nonexistent party attachment

(Campbell et al., 1960; Verba et al., 1978). 22

Lastly, mosque involvement was included in all of the political participation models since such

activity could enhance political engagement and awareness to discrimination. Previous research dem-

onstrates that religious institutions—especially historically Black churches—are considered catalysts

to political participation because they play an important role in developing civic skills, political

knowledge and attentiveness, and commitments to a cause by providing a regular meeting place in

which individuals can interact and discuss public events and affairs (Dawson, 1994; McDaniel, 2008;

Tate, 1993; Verba et al., 1995). Places of worship also directly engage members into the political pro-

cess by providing cues about salient issues (for example, discrimination toward one’s group), endors-

ing local or national candidates, and asking those affiliated to take political action (Harris, 1994;

McDaniel, 2008). Recent work on Muslims demonstrates that mosques, just like churches and syna-

gogues, are conduits of political participation (Dana et al., 2011; Jamal, 2005).

Mosque attendance was measured by asking respondents how frequently they attended the mos-

que. Levels of attendance are fairly similar across the two datasets despite differences in question

20 For more general literature on gender and politics, refer to Burns, Scholzman, and Verba (1997, 2001).

21 Other important indicators of political engagement are length of time in the United States and language proficiency. Unfortunately, both datasets did not have a measure of length of time lived in the United States among foreign-born participants. With that said, MAPOS did have a question about language spoken at home (a crude indicator of English proficiency), but Pew did not. It should be noted that controlling for language spoken at home and other variables such as linked fate (whether the respondent thinks what happens to Muslims in the United States will affect what hap- pens to them) in the MAPOS models did not impact the study’s findings. In the Pew dataset, questions about linked fate or language spoken at home were not available. However, Pew did ask a question about identity—whether indi- viduals consider themselves first as Muslim or American (options for “both equally” or “neither/other” were avail- able). Controlling for identity did not have a measurable impact on the relationship between discrimination and electoral participation. Perhaps not surprisingly, those who identified as American first had a higher likelihood of vot- ing than those who identified as Muslim first.

22 Other important psychological controls that were not available in both datasets include political trust, knowledge, and efficacy.

Discrimination and Sociopolitical (Dis) Engagement 625



wording. 23

About 16% of Muslims in the Pew sample stated that they frequently attend worship

(more than once a week) with 18% indicating no involvement. As for Muslims in the MAPOS dataset,

12% reported no involvement at all, and 26% indicated being very involved in their mosque.

For the ingroup participation model, two additional controls—religiosity index and importance of

religion in life—were introduced to isolate the effect of discrimination and religiosity when estimating

the likelihood of attending mosque activities beyond prayer. The religiosity index (a 5 0.77) was composed by adding responses to the following questions: “How often do you pray?”; “How impor-

tant is fasting during Ramadan?”; “Do you believe the Koran is the word of God?”; and “Do you

believe the Koran is to be taken literally, word for word?” The index ranges from 2 to 14 with a mean

of 10.85 and a standard deviation of 3.13. As for the importance of religion in one’s life, about 54%

indicated that religion is “very important” in their life, 29% stated “somewhat important,” and 16%

thought that religion is “not too important” or “not at all important.”


A total of seven two-tailed logistic regression models were estimated to rigorously investigate the

relationship between discrimination and sociopolitical behavior. 24

Models 1–6 (see Tables 2 and 3)

test Hypotheses 1 and 2 of the article. The last model assesses the impact of social and political dis-

crimination on ingroup involvement (see Table 4). In addition to reporting regression coefficients and

fit statistics, predicted probabilities are provided to graphically demonstrate the relative strength of

each independent variable on the dependent variables (see Figures 2–4). Using a standard simulation

technique known as first difference, predicted probabilities were calculated by changing the independ-

ent variables under analysis from minimum to maximum value while holding all the other covariates

at their central tendency (mean).

Models 1-4 measure the impact of political discrimination on political participation among

MAPOS participants. Based on the theoretical framework detailed earlier, political discrimination is

likely to increase one’s propensity to engage in politics. The results show strong support for this claim,

confirming hypothesis one. The perception that airport security measures are being implemented dis-

criminatorily against Muslims has a statistically and substantively significant impact on all four partic-

ipation measures even after accounting for various confounders. Specifically, political discrimination

increased the probability of voting by 14%, protesting by 12%, attending a community meeting by

15%, and writing to a public official by 6% (see Figure 2). 25

As expected, various sociodemographic and attitudinal variables also structure the political partic-

ipation of American Muslims. In the MAPOS voting model, nativity, education, income, age, political

interest, and party attachment had sizable effects on voting behavior. Respondents who were born in

the United States, are more educated and have higher incomes, older, more interested in politics, and

23 Pew interviewees were asked to report mosque attendance (0 5 no attendance, 5 5 weekly attendance) while MAPOS respondents were asked to indicate involvement in mosque activities (0 5 no involvement at all, 4 5 very involved).

24 All the bivariate results are presented in Tables 1 through 5 in the online supporting information and have been weighted using the original survey weights. The simple two-way analyses demonstrate stark differences in between political and societal discrimination and measures of sociopolitical behavior.

25 Since perceptions rather than actual experiences of airport discrimination is being measured with the MAPOS dataset, one concern is that those who are interested in politics not only participate more but are also aware of discriminatory policies toward their group. To deal with this issue, beyond just controlling for political interest, additional models were estimated separating individuals who indicated that they were very or somewhat attentive to news about candi- dates and initiatives from those who indicated “not much” or “not at all interested.” If political discrimination is not statistically associated with political participation among those who are not too interested in politics, then it is really political interest that is driving both awareness of discrimination and political activism. The additional models (avail- able upon request) do not show such a pattern. Political discrimination in both subsamples (in political attentive and inattentive models) is positively correlated with voting, protesting, attending a meeting, and writing to a public official.

626 Oskooii



identify with either the Democratic or Republic Party were about 13%, 23%, 10%, 31%, 28%, and

27% more likely to cast a ballot, respectively.

Having established the association between political discrimination and political behavior using

the MAPOS dataset, models 5 and 6 were estimated to investigate the impact of both political and

societal discrimination on registration status and turnout using the Pew dataset. In line with the

MAPOS outcomes, political discrimination increased the likelihood of registration by 7% and voting

by 13% (see Figure 3). In sharp contrast, societal discrimination stifled the willingness to register to

vote and to turnout, confirming Hypothesis 2. Pew participants who perceived three acts of societal

discrimination were 17% less like to register and 20% less likely to vote in the 2004 presidential

Table 2. The Impact of Discrimination on Political Participation Measures

Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4

Vote (MAPOS) Protest (MAPOS) Meeting (MAPOS) Write (MAPOS)

Political Discrimination 0.594** 0.691*** 0.592*** 0.382*

(0.189) (0.186) (0.153) (0.177)

Political Interest 0.396*** 0.157† 0.297*** 0.295**

(0.095) (0.086) (0.077) (0.091)

Mosque Attendance 0.079 0.489*** 0.510*** 0.213**

(0.079) (0.076) (0.066) (0.073)

Female 20.061 0.364* 20.297* 20.017

(0.157) (0.143) (0.131) (0.147)

Age 0.501*** 0.024 0.213* 0.008

(0.111) (0.096) (0.086) (0.096)

High Education 1.103*** 20.174 0.242 0.845**

(0.266) (0.235) (0.213) (0.260)

Mid Education 0.716*** 20.151 20.021 0.602**

(0.208) (0.195) (0.180) (0.230)

Missing Education 21.479† 20.145 0.018 0.535

(0.830) (0.598) (0.534) (0.638)

High Income 0.431† 0.361† 0.144 0.282

(0.234) (0.216) (0.193) (0.216)

Mid Income 0.498** 0.330* 0.386* 0.261

(0.187) (0.172) (0.152) (0.174)

Missing Income 0.049 20.151 0.055 20.448

(0.351) (0.317) (0.271) (0.346)

U.S. Born 0.563** 0.961*** 0.608*** 0.538***

(0.171) (0.150) (0.139) (0.152)

No Party Attachment 21.164*** 20.445** 20.451** 21.135***

(0.189) (0.170) (0.147) (0.198)

Black 20.521* 21.089*** 20.310† 20.668**

(0.232) (0.211) (0.188) (0.215)

Asian 20.649*** 20.778*** 20.438** 20.344*

(0.192) (0.171) (0.152) (0.170)

Other Race 20.809** 20.838*** 20.455* 20.014

(0.247) (0.220) (0.197) (0.211)

(Intercept) 22.983*** 23.430*** 23.277*** —3.441***

(0.491) (0.445) (0.394) (0.461)

N 920 1256 1256 1256

McFadden’s R 2

0.16 0.12 0.11 0.09

ML (Cox-Snell) R 2

0.19 0.14 0.14 0.10

log L 2464.787 2611.875 2726.677 2602.939

Note. Logistic Regression (two-tailed test); Standard errors in parentheses. †p < .10; *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.

Discrimination and Sociopolitical (Dis) Engagement 627



election that those who did not perceive any discrimination. This relationship provides strong support

for the claim that differentiating between political and societal discrimination is important. While the

perception of political discrimination serves as a mobilizing force, the opposite could be concluded

for individuals exposed to interpersonal discrimination. 26

Table 3. The Impact of Discrimination on Registration and Turnout

Model 5 Model 6

Registration (PEW) Turnout (PEW)

Political Discrimination 0.460† 0.656**

(0.249) (0.230)

Societal Discrimination 20.295* 20.283*

(0.131) (0.128)

Political Interest 0.262 0.934***

(0.226) (0.217)

Mosque Attendance 0.037 0.055

(0.057) (0.053)

Female 0.068 20.111

(0.188) (0.176)

Age 0.032*** 0.023***

(0.007) (0.007)

High Education 1.015** 0.860**

(0.323) (0.285)

Mid Education 0.471* 0.405†

(0.210) (0.207)

Missing Education 20.296 21.423

(1.274) (1.385)

High Income 0.226 0.511†

(0.312) (0.279)

Mid Income 0.221 0.304

(0.231) (0.211)

Missing Income 20.649* 20.410

(0.269) (0.292)

U.S. Born 0.448† 1.170***

(0.245) (0.249)

No Party Attachment 20.757*** 20.997***

(0.226) (0.222)

Black 0.520† 20.001

(0.303) (0.301)

Asian 0.826** 0.292

(0.265) (0.238)

Other Race 0.276 0.369

(0.247) (0.243)

(Intercept) 21.078* 21.652***

(0.430) (0.431)

N 776 742 McFadden’s R

2 0.11 0.15

ML (Cox-Snell) R 2

0.12 0.17

log L 2321.985 2361.350

Note. Logistic Regression (two-tailed test); Standard errors in parentheses. †p < .10; *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.

26 The combined effect of political and societal discrimination on turnout was also tested using the Pew dataset (regres- sion results are available upon request). The interaction term was not associated with the propensity to vote, and it did not alter the main results. That is, individuals who reported experiencing societal discrimination but not any political discrimination were less likely to vote, and those who experienced political discrimination but not societal discrimina- tion were more likely to vote.

628 Oskooii



Consistent with the results obtained from the MAPOS voting model, political interest, age, educa-

tion, income, nativity, and party attachment were all significantly associated with electoral participa-

tion. However, unlike self-identified Arabs in the MAPOS sample, Arabs in the Pew model were no

more likely than Blacks, Asians, and other racial groups to vote. This difference is most likely a func-

tion of limited response options in the Pew survey. Since an “Arab” category did not exist, third-

generation Arab-Americans could have selected the “other” or “White” option, making the ethnic-

specific finding unreliable.

Table 4. Discrimination and Attending Mosque Activities beyond Prayer

Model 7 (PEW)

Political Discrimination 0.551**


Societal Discrimination 0.383***


Religiosity 0.224***


Importance of Religion 0.607**


Political Interest 0.256


Female 0.035


Age 20.002


High Education 1.019***


Mid Education 0.679***


Missing Education 0.656


High Income 0.964***


Mid Income 0.624**


Missing Income 0.196


U.S. Born 1.046***


No Party Attachment 20.084


Black 0.370


Asian 0.198


Other Race 0.132


(Intercept) 27.328***


N 973

McFadden’s R 2


ML (Cox-Snell) R 2


log L 2434.728

Note. Logistic Regression (two-tailed test); Standard errors in parentheses. †p < .10; *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.

Discrimination and Sociopolitical (Dis) Engagement 629



To test the Hypotheses 3 and 4, participation in mosque/Islamic-center-related activities beyond

Salah and Jum�ıah prayer was regressed on political and societal discrimination. Based on social iden- tity theory, the expectation is that perceptions of societal or political prejudice increase the desire to

identify with one’s ingroup. The results obtained from Model 7 provide strong support for this theory

(see Table 4). Political discrimination is positively and significantly related to participation in mosque

activities beyond prayer. Individuals who experienced political discrimination were 11% more likely

to attend mosque activities beyond prayer than those who did not experience any discrimination (see

Figure 4). Societal discrimination is also a statistically significant predictor of mosque activity,

increasing the likelihood of attendance by 28%. The positive effects were observed even after

accounting for religiosity and importance of religion in one’s life, which are two key covariates of

mosque attendance beyond prayer. This suggests that Muslims attend the mosque for other purposes

besides religious motives.

Further Evaluation of the Theory

The theoretical argument advanced in this study is that interpersonal or everyday societal discrim-

ination can lead to feelings of powerlessness, inferiority, hopelessness, or sadness and, in turn, contrib-

ute to political acquiescence. After all, participation does require tremendous material and

psychological capital. But how do we know that individuals who reported experiencing societal

• 0.4 • 0.3 • 0.2 • 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4

• 0.4 • 0.3 • 0.2 • 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4

Change in Predicted Probability (Min• Max)

Vote (MAPOS)

Political Discrimination

Political Interest

Mosque Attendance



High Education

Med Education

High Income

Middle Income

U.S. Born

No Party Attachment




• 0.4 • 0.3 • 0.2 • 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4

• 0.4 • 0.3 • 0.2 • 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4

Protest (MAPOS)

• 0.4 • 0.3 • 0.2 • 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4

• 0.4 • 0.3 • 0.2 • 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4

Meeting (MAPOS)

• 0.4 • 0.3 • 0.2 • 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4

• 0.4 • 0.3 • 0.2 • 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4

Write (MAPOS)

Figure 2. The change in the predicted probability of political participation. Symbols in Figure 2 indicate the change in

the predicted probability of voting, protesting, attending a meeting, and writing to a public official. The lines attached to

the symbols represent 95% confidence bands. If any part of the confidence bands crosses zero, that variable is not statis-

tically significant.

630 Oskooii



discrimination within the Pew sample are somehow psychologically worse off than their counterpart

or those who only experienced political discrimination? While it may be true that a plethora of epide-

miological studies have established the relationship between societal discrimination and adverse men-

tal health outcomes, no such evidence has been presented in the context of this study. To account for

this, the relationship between discrimination, political discontent, and self-reported unhappiness will

be explored to provide further evidence in support of the theoretical framework.

In total, six logistic regression models were estimated to evaluate the relationship between dis-

crimination and three key survey questions contained in the Pew dataset. The first four models dis-

played in Table 5 assess the relationship between discrimination and disapproval toward President

Bush and dissatisfaction with the general state of the country. The expectation is that those who expe-

rienced political or societal discrimination will be more likely than individuals who did not experience

any discrimination to repudiate government actors and institutions that pose a threat to their interests

or contributed toward their marginalization. For Muslims, the introduction of the USA Patriot Act by

Congress and its subsequent approval by President Bush is one source of motivation for increased

political involvement. As Dahl has argued in Who Governs?, people engage in politics not necessarily from a sense of duty or sustained interest in politics. Rather, they become politically active “. . .when primary goals at the focus of their lives are endangered” (1961, p. 224). When faced with undesirable

• 0.4 • 0.3 • 0.2 • 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4

• 0.4 • 0.3 • 0.2 • 0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4

Change in Predicted Probability (Min• Max)

Registration (PEW)

Political Discrimination

Societal Discrimination

Political Interest

Mosque Attendance


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