Aug. 30 (RNS) American Muslims overwhelmingly support stricter gun control laws and school voucher programs, and tend to take stronger positions on issues than most Americans, according to a new poll.

The poll of 502 American Muslims, conducted by the American Muslim Council and Zogby International, found that the country's estimated 6 million Muslims tend to vote Democratic, but on social policy questions, are drawn to both major parties.

Observers have targeted the Muslim community as a critical swing vote in battleground states with large Muslim populations, such as Michigan, California and New Jersey.

"This is an important religious group that is in the process of defining itself," said pollster John Zogby, according to The Washington Times. "This is a pivotal group in the upcoming elections."

The survey, released Monday (Aug.28), found that Muslims tend to be overwhelmingly united on all but a handful of social issues. Ninety-six percent support using the federal budget surplus for health care, 89 percent support stricter gun control measures, 84 percent support school vouchers and 75 percent support the death penalty.

But Muslims are hard to pin down into one ideological camp. Like the nation's 42 million Catholic voters, they support a $1 increase in the hourly minimum wage -- a perennial Democratic issue -- but also support school voucher programs, an issue embraced by Republicans but rejected by most Democrats.

Nearly a third of Muslim voters (31.9 percent) said U.S. foreign policy does not "demonstrate respect" toward the Muslim faith and just over half (55.4 percent) said the United States has not pursued an "even-handed" policy on the Middle East.

The survey also found that Muslims tend to take stronger positions on issues even within their own political parties. While 98 percent of Muslim Democrats want to use the federal surplus for health care, only 46 percent of non-Muslim Democrats share that view. In addition, 70 percent of Republican Muslims support gun control, while only 20 percent of non-Muslim Republicans support stricter laws.

The survey, conducted in March, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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