South Asian voters stepping up outreach this election season

2020 Election

DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — NewsNation is looking at the voters who could play a big role in the election.

In Texas, the race appears tighter than a typical year for President of the United States.

“The Lone Star State” has 38 electoral votes.

NewsNation talked with several South Asian American voters who openly discussed feeling overlooked when it comes to politics and campaign seasons. They say, historically, their community hasn’t been impressively politically active, but there’s a push for that to change this year.

Born in South Africa and following a move to Canada, Chanda Parbhoo moved to the United States when she was 12 years old.

“I identify in lots of different ways,” Parbhoo laughed. “I’m South African, I’m an Indian, I’m a South Asian, I’m a Texan, I’m a Canadian, I’m an American!” 

She says she remembers having the quick realization that her South Asian community is often left out of political discussions in America.

“I think that’s one of the reasons our community gets overlooked by politicians, because nobody knew what the data was,” said Parbhoo.

Meaning there were more people like Chanda than campaigns even knew. The latest Census tells us there are 6.3 million South Asians who call America home. Chanda says in Texas alone, 267,000 are registered voters. But when campaign outreach doesn’t reach out and few candidates look like you — she says the result is low voter turnout.

“In 2014, 20% of our population came out to vote,” said Parbhoo. “20% in 2014. And I think politicians and candidates look at that and go ‘well, they’re not really voting, so we’re not going to really talk to you.’”

Despite President Donald Trump’s visit to India in February, his event with Prime Minister Modi in 2019, and five members of Congress being of South Asian descent, voters like Sunita Bhikha say it took Kamala Harris landing on the 2020 ticket to feel better represented.

“What can I say?” said Bhikha. “I mean we’re honored that she’s Asian as well. She’s one of our aunties as they say!”

After the 2016 election, Chanda started SAAVE Texas — a grassroots campaign aimed at getting more South Asians registered to vote, regardless of party. It’s staffed by volunteers like Reza Shamji — a Los Angeles Muslim who took a gap year from college to ramp up voter interest.

“Basically just trying to get the Asian American vote up here in Texas, because it’s always so close here,” said Shamji. “And this year especially could be a flip state.”

He says for many people within his community, policy is at the heart of their presidential pick — with matters of immigration leading the list.

“I think it’s one representation overall, and then health care because a lot of South Asians do not have the health care that they need,” said Shamji. 

And as one of the fastest-growing minority populations in the United States, Chanda says the South Asian vote could have a tremendous influence on elections at the local and national levels.

“There are so many races around the state of Texas that are lost and won by a few hundred votes — a few thousand votes — so we’re definitely going to be the margin of difference,” said Parbhoo.

And while SAAVE Texas says 75-85% of South Asians do identify as Democrat, it’s worth noting that President Donald Trump has a handful of South Asian coalitions working to reelect him to a second term.

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