South Asian Americans are a growing political force: Report

Many South Asian Americans tap into their community to kick-start their political careers.

Even as South Asian Americans have become an increasingly active force in the US politics, many still tap into their community to kick-start their political careers, according to a new report.

While their numbers have gone from only two candidates running in 2000 to about 40 in the past two election cycles, most South Asian American political activity still falls within the Democratic Party, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis.

This was evidenced by both the number of candidates running and where donors are giving their money, it said. Polls also find that the majority of South Asian Americans identify as Democrats.

Despite leaning Democratic, South Asian Americans — like any group — are ideologically diverse, FiveThirtyEight said.

South Asian American candidates this past election cycle ranged from New York progressives like Suraj Patel to Tennessee Republicans like Dr. Manny Sethi, who ran in his state’s primary for the US Senate on an explicitly pro-Trump agenda, it noted.

READ: Record number of Indian Americans on ballot across the country (October 9, 2020)

But while Republicans have made some inroads in recent years — especially in courting Indian Americans — only a few Republican congressional candidates advanced to the general election, and they faced long odds, FiveThirtyEight said.

Patel, was able to get his 2020 campaign for Democratic primary in New York’s 12th Congressional District off the ground primarily thanks to Gujarati Americans and other South Asian American donors, it said.

Nearly 84 percent of the $1 million he raised from individual contributors came from South Asian Americans.

“You don’t have the same sort of support systems that have been built over the generations for other groups,” Patel was quoted as saying about campaigning as an Indian American.

“It’s just like how our families built their businesses: borrowing from friends and networks and informal networks of mentorship and support from niche communities.”

“Ultimately, Patel met the same fate that befalls many progressive challengers, losing the  primary to longtime incumbent Rep. Carolyn Maloney (albeit narrowly),” the polling site said.

But Patel’s experience — particularly the extent to which he relied on donations from other South Asian Americans to kick-start his campaign — illustrates one path for South Asian Americans to run for political office, FiveThirtyEight said.

“However, it’s also a complicated story: While fundraising from within the South Asian American community can help get campaigns like Patel’s off the ground, community support doesn’t always guarantee success and can pose a unique set of challenges for newcomers.”

According to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of publicly available campaign finance records, Patel was one of about a dozen South Asian Americans whose campaigns were primarily funded by other South Asian Americans in 2020.

“In fact, we found a fairly strong coethnic donation effect — that is, many South Asian Americans gave disproportionately to candidates who were also South Asian,” it noted.

The fact that many South Asian American donors are funding other South Asian Americans’ campaigns isn’t a new phenomenon — or limited to South Asian Americans, FiveThirtyEight said.

When candidates of color are on the ballot, those of the same race or ethnicity are more motivated to give, it said citing a study by Jake Grumbach, a professor of political science at the University of Washington.

His study of political donations in general elections from 1980 to 2012 found that the effect is particularly strong among Asian Americans.

READ: List of Indian Americans in the Biden administration (January 2, 2021)

FiveThirtyEight cited the cases of four sitting House members of South Asian American origin — Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna and Raja Krishnamoorthi — all Democrats who won reelection this year.

The four members of “the Samosa Caucus” have each received at least some funding from South Asian Americans, but the extent to which they have relied on (and continue to rely on) money from fellow South Asian Americans has varied, it said.

Jayapal, for example, received about $250,000 from South Asian American donors during her first run for Congress in Seattle in 2016, but that was only a small fraction of the $3 million she raised that year from her broader progressive coalition, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Meanwhile, Bera and Khanna, who represent California districts near Sacramento and San Jose, respectively, received more than half of their big-dollar donations from South Asian American donors in their first runs for Congress.

But as their tenure in Congress has lengthened, their funding sources have grown less reliant on South Asian American donations — especially Bera’s, the website said.

Unlike the others, however, Krishnamoorthi, who represents a district in the Chicago suburbs that has substantial Indian American population, has actually increased his reliance on South Asian American donations since his first run for Congress in 2012, and he continues to receive a majority of his funding from South Asian Americans.

“Krishnamoorthi’s continued reliance on South Asian Americans for the bulk of his donations may have something to do with his politics differing from the other Samosa Caucus members — at least when it comes to issues that touch the subcontinent,” FiveThirtyEight said.

“These differences expose some of the ideological and political schisms within the broader South Asian American community — even among those just participating in Democratic Party politics — and is one reason fundraising primarily from other South Asian Americans can be challenging,” the website said.


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