Chasing the Hindu Vote

Chasing the Hindu Vote

Virginia’s recent gubernatorial election put a spotlight on the community, and how its political leanings are being shaped


Barely a week after Virginia’s gubernatorial elections in November, campaign signs were still ubiquitous as I traveled in and around Loudoun County. Thanks to controversy around culture wars in its schools, the county—part of D.C.’s northern Virginia suburbs—had been front and center in media coverage of the election, but Loudoun’s demographics were largely overlooked by reporters. Asians are the area’s second largest racial/ethnic group, after whites. During their campaigns, both incumbent Terry McAuliffe and Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin reached out to Hindu community leaders as part of their effort to reach Asian American voters. And though Hindu Americans may not have been the electoral tipping point for Youngkin, a potential partisan shift toward the GOP among this predominantly immigrant group may signal a broader national electoral shift.

While Indian Americans tend to identify as Democrats, when preference is broken out by religion and immigration status, the picture changes slightly. According to Utsav Chakrabarti of the policy research group HinduPACT, the rise of identity politics in the U.S. complicates things for Indian Americans, since identitarianism can be perceived as placing precedence on skin color and country of origin over beliefs and values. But Chakrabarti favors breaking out Hindu Americans as a group distinct from the category of Indian Americans or Southeast Asians, since he said some Hindu Americans may feel that being categorized with other South Asians can be problematic due to ethnic and religious tensions.

The data seems to bear that out: Whereas 82% of Muslims in the Carnegie Endowment’s recent Indian American Attitudes Survey said that they planned to vote for President Biden in the 2020 elections, only 67% of Hindus did. Data from the IAAS also appears to bolster Chakrabarti’s characterization of the Hindu American experience as fundamentally an immigrant one. According to the survey, naturalized Indian Americans who have been in the U.S. more than a decade preferred Biden, whereas those who have arrived in the past decade showed stronger support for Trump. While naturalized Indian Americans in the IAAS survey were still less likely as a whole to vote and have weaker partisan affiliation compared to U.S.-born Indian Americans, Chakrabarti thinks this is changing, especially among Hindu Americans.

Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation, said in an email that in her anecdotal experience, she has seen an increase in the number of Indian Americans getting involved in electoral politics “from canvassing to contributing.”

It can be difficult to break out numbers on Hindu Americans specifically, but an article on the Loudoun County website says India is the main country of origin for county residents born out of the country (1 in 4 Loudouners, according to the article).

“A little over half of the total 4.6 million people of Indian descent/origin are eligible to vote,” Shukla said, which accounts for less than 1% of all eligible voters. She also said that “we extrapolate to calculate the Hindu population” from among Indian Asians in the census numbers, since around 80% of Indians in India are Hindu. “This may seem miniscule. However, concentrations of Indian Americans are growing rapidly in many swing states. More importantly, Indian Americans actually go out and vote: 97% of eligible voters surveyed in the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey responded to their plans to vote; 84% reported that they were absolutely certain they would vote in the state election. When elections are being won and lost by such slim margins, this is untapped and reliable potential that is really available to both parties and independents.”

If I don’t go to temple,” said Tiwari, “I’m a Hindu, nobody throws me out.” 

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