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Community could cast deciding vote in US poll

George Joseph in New York | October 06, 2008 16:10 IST

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The Indian-American community, always considered numerically significant to impact a national election, could this year finally have its defining moment.

"This year's Presidential election is likely to be determined by small margins in a handful of states with significant enough Indian-American populations -- states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio," points out Toby Chaudhury, communications director for Campaign for America's Future.

The group conducted a study in Northern Virginia that discovered the political attitudes and values of Indian Americans tend to be more progressive and Democratic than other Americans of comparable backgrounds.

Participating voters identified themselves as aligned closely with Democrats, and very far from Republicans, on a wide range of economic, cultural and international issues. The results suggest that there exist enormous opportunities to engage Indian American support in key election battles, said Chaudhury.

He cited the example of the 2006 Senate election in Virginia, which was won by Democrat Jim Webb who defeated Senator George Allen though at one point the incumbent held a double digit lead in the polls. Indian-American voters, who tended to be lackadaisical in this region, were roused to action when Allen spoke disparagingly of R Sidharth, one of Webb's campaign volunteers, at a meeting.

The community banded together behind Webb's candidature with fundraisers and intense get out the vote drives, and, in the end the Democrat won by 7,231 votes, thus causing Republicans to lose control of the Senate and torpedoing Allen's political career.

"Indian-American voters in Virginia proved that they are ready to fight hard for what matters most to them, and that they could make a serious electoral difference," Chaudhury noted.

The Indian Americans who participated in the study saw Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama [Images] as someone who shares their values, has the right priorities for turning around the troubled economy, and as the best possible leader to re-establish America's standing in the world.

"Participants in the focus group were deeply troubled by where they saw the country headed after eight years of President George W Bush [Images], and placed great hope in Obama who they see as a jolt of fresh air," Chaudhury said.

'This focus group was the first of a potentially broader research project, and while we strongly caution against drawing actionable conclusions from a single two-hour discussion with seven people, the political attitudes and values of these participants suggest enormous opportunities to engage Indian Americans for support with progressive and Democratic battles,' the study cautions.

Even though more than half of the group identified themselves as independents or weak Democrats, the prevailing attitudes expressed were distinctly anti-Republican. Participants universally agreed that America confronts numerous difficulties which are not being properly addressed. From domestic issues like the economy and the housing crisis to national security policy like the war in Iraq and mishandling the growing strength of other countries, there was an unmistakable sense that nothing is going right for America.

Most of the participants were first generation Americans who arrived in the US over the last 10 to 15 years, and they had a deep appreciation for international affairs, Chaudhury pointed out. Iraq did not come up as a topic of discussion until a prompt from the moderator, but once it was on the table the group expressed very strong opposition to the war. Though the participants were in favour of ending the war in Iraq, there was a sense that America was duty bound not to leave a mess behind.

The focus group's attitude reflected that of the Republican Party, which had at the recent national convention in St Paul-Minneapolis kept President George W Bush at a distance. The group derided the president as an inarticulate man who was a puppet for special interests.

Interestingly, there was also deep scepticism about Democrats, who were seen as indecisive and unable to turn the diverse support they enjoyed into meaningful action, Chaudhury said. And despite their hopes for Obama, who reminded them of John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton [Images], they had serious concerns over whether he has the experience and political smarts to get major changes made during his tenure.

Obama's rival Senator John McCain [Images] was seen as an old, stale Republican who had the advantage of experience, but would be seen as a continuation of the Bush regime.






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