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South Asian Americans could tip the U.S. presidential election

April 23, 2016

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By Annette Birch

Published by The Capital Post on May 4, 2016,

The growing population of South Asian Americans could hold the key to who will become president in November as they represent a growing part of voters in the United States. However, they have previously not attracted much attention from the political parties and in the 2012 election, only 10 percent were contacted by the political parties, according to Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote’s 2014 Survey.

“South Asians are critical to the U.S. presidential election,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national non-profit South Asian organization.

However, South Asian Americans could be more aware of the importance of voicing their opinions and exercising their vote, according to another South Asian American platform.

“The South Asian community is playing a very important role on the socio-economic front in the USA. They need to be more aware that their vote matters and their say will create a difference in American politics,” said Mansoor Razaque Qureshi, one of the initiators of the volunteer-based South Asian American Community for Hillary.

“Only if we voice our opinions and use our right to vote, can we fight racial discrimination and bridge the gap between us and other communities in the United States.”

The South Asian population in the United States is growing rapidly. Presently, there are 4.3 million South Asians in the United States – most live in California, New Jersey, Texas and New York, where they could tip the vote. But also in swing states like Florida and Virginia, where Indian Americans number around one percent of the vote, the South Asian vote could make a difference between winning or losing the presidency in those two states in November.

Today, 65 percent of the nearly three million Indian Americans in the United States identify themselves as Democrats. Eighty-five percent of this group also voted for President Barack Obama during the past election, according to the Pew Research Center. But in the past, South Asian Americans tended to vote Republican and several of high-ranking South Asian politicians in the South like former Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina are Republicans.

However, the South Asian community in the South may also be changing. The South Asians, who in a growing number travel to Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas and Detroit in search of jobs, to unite with family or for lower living costs, constitute a very diverse group of different nationalities, different social status and a growing number is also illegal immigrants.

“Their [South Asians] party identity is not cast in stone,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, an Indian American professor of public policy and political science at the University of California, Riverside to India News on Jan.16, 2016. “There’s still potential for persuasion there.”

Democrats and Republicans alike have tried to capture the vote and engage the South Asian American community. On Jan. 7, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated her vision for a thriving Asian American community, launching a new volunteer-run organization called AAPI for Hillary. At the same time, she denounced the hateful comments by several Republican challengers, most notably those by presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called for a ban on any Muslim entering the country.

“They forget a fundamental lesson about our great country. Being an open and tolerant society does not make us vulnerable. It’s the core of our strength,” said Clinton, according to India News on Jan. 16, 2016.

Republicans listed it as a propaganda trick, saying Clinton was not really interested in the interests of Asian Americans, according to India News on Jan. 16, 2016. Republicans have previously been successful in appealing to South Asian Americans calling for more visas for foreign skilled workers and several of their candidates had South Asian background. However, the fact that Republicans have restricted research funding, been hostile to scientific approaches to life and a technology deficit in their campaign approach has removed them from South Asians, according to the Daily Beast on Feb. 26, 2013.

However, Sridaran said that the candidates need to focus more on the issues that are critical to South Asians, in order to better their chances of winning them over.

“They could focus more on working class, worker protection, better family based visa policy, addressing hate violence, and calling out racist comments from political candidates,” Sridaran said. SAALT is presently looking into the issues that are important to the different groups and nationalities within the South Asian community in more detail.

“Hillary’s reforms and agendas on racial discrimination, affordable health care and immigration reform would benefit the minorities and bring out the best among South Asian Americans. This would lead to progress of the nation and thereby benefit all,” Qureshi added.

Hillary Clinton has on her official website stated that she wants to focus on addressing hate violence, combatting discrimination and ending racial profiling. She is also for comprehensive immigration reform, promoting naturalization and addressing family backlog, as well as social issues such as making college affordable, enhance the Affordable Care Act and closing the gender wage gap.

But even though Hillary Clinton is perceived to be the favorite of South Asians, she may not want to forget that South Asian Americans are not only casting their votes according to their background but are also influenced by their surroundings and their living situation – something several South Asians running for political office have learned along the way.

“The trick for these [South Asian] candidates is to never let voters forget you are running to represent Sacramento, or Wichita…not Bangalore,” said Ami Bera, who has been the Democratic candidate for Congress in California’s 3rd district, in an article published by NPR on October 21, 2010.

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