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March 31, 2008

Identity Politics and electing Iranian Americans

Last week, NIAC sent out a report on its mailing list about an Iranian-American candidate for US Congress. Darius Shahinfar declared his candidacy from New York’s 21st district and faces a competitive primary to be the Democratic nominee in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. In response to the article, I received several emails from our members and other Iranian Americans asking some very legitimate questions –

Should our community automatically support an Iranian American candidate? Does he even have a chance with four primary opponents? Can Iranian Americans impact this race in upstate New York?

I want to spark a conversation on these topics and tackle them one by one. First, follow me behind the link to talk about identity politics…

First of all, I have to point out very clearly that NIAC does not endorse any candidates. We do not and (legally) can not endorse Shahinfar or any of his opponents.

However, the questions that were raised via email are very legitimate ones – in this post, I want to discuss whether it is a good idea to donate money and vote for IA’s simply due to their ethnic background?

In my opinion, there is no right answer. This is a question each citizen and voter has to answer for themselves. Identity politics is certainly a very real phenomenon as we see in the Presidential race. Is there a reason that 90% of African-American Democrats are voting for Barack Obama and 60%+ Democratic women are voting for Hillary Clinton? It is obvious that identity politics always plays a role in elections. It’s debatable if it’s a constructive role, but it indisputable that it exists.

But so far, in our community, indications don’t seem to be conclusive. Partially because Iranian Americans seem to be pretty evenly split between the two main political parties, party identification seems to play a more important role then the candidate’s background. Another serious issue is that we simply don’t have solid data.

One thing is for sure – Shahinfar is not the first IA to run for office. Many of you will remember Goli Ameri who was nominated as the Republican candidate for Oregon’s 1st district back in 2004. We do know that she received a lot of early money from Iranian Americans from around the country. But anecdotally, (there is no solid data) it seems that Iranian American Democrats in Oregon’s 1st district were not swayed and still voted for Rep. Wu, her Democratic opponent.

In Beverly Hills on-the-other-hand, Mayor Delshad, a Democrat, seems to have received the overwhelming support of IA Democrats AND Republicans in the city.

There have been a few other IA candidates in Texas and California and even in a Maryland Senate race, but none of them won their party’s nomination. In each of these cases, our community has had lively discussions about supporting or opposing the candidates. I want to hear what you all think. Should identity politics play a role in a voter’s decision? Would it make a difference in your vote?

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