Page last updated at 11:23 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

How Conservatives' software targets Asian voters

Conservative leader David Cameron
David Cameron's party are trying to win Asian votes

By Adam Pasternicki
Politics reporter, BBC Asian Network

Conservative candidates are hoping new software will help them to better target British Asians and earn the votes of a section of the community who could have a major part to play in the general election.

In nearly 15% of the Conservatives' top 100 target seats the Asian vote could be significant because of the size of the community and its high level of voter turnout.

The British Asian Conservative Link are now using software they developed which checks all of the names on a constituency's electoral roll and then accurately predicts which language Asian voters are likely to speak.

If there is a chunk of Asian voters (in any constituency), we'll try and speak to them
Ranbir Suri, British Asian Conservative Link

Campaigners fluent in the same language then canvass the voters either on the doorstep or over the telephone.

Ranbir Suri, from British Asian Conservative Link, explained: "If any candidate wants to know, in their constituency, a breakdown of the Asian community, we can give them that information in no time at all.

"You can say whether the voters are Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims."

Marginal seats

This is the first time the programme is being used for a general election, but Mr Suri says it has been helpful in the past in the Norwich North, Crewe and Nantwich by-elections.

"I went myself to knock on doors," he said. "Asian people were quite happy to see me. That was what people would call a 'white area', but when they see a man like me, an Asian, an Indian, a Sikh, canvassing for the Conservative Party, they're more than happy to talk to me.

"If there is a chunk of Asian voters (in any constituency), we'll try and speak to them."

There are expected to be more than a million Asian votes at stake in the general election, with a number of those in the marginal seats that the Conservatives need to win to be able to form a majority.

In 14 of the Tories' top 100 target seats there is a significant Asian population - in some cases making up more than a third of all constituents.

Research from Warwick University has found Asians are significantly more likely to make the trip to the ballot box than people from other backgrounds.

All the main parties are trying to get support in inner city marginal seats, and that's where Asians are located
Muhammad Anwar, Warwick University

Muhammad Anwar, from the university's Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations said: "Asians have the tendency to come out and vote in greater numbers compared to non-Asians.

"This makes them very important and reliable voters. At the last general election Asian turnout was higher - 67% of Pakistanis, 70% of Bangladeshis, 67% of Indians voted - compared with just over 60% nationally.

"In this general election, because of the location of Asians and the numbers involved their vote is going to be crucial.

"Whichever party many of them support is going to benefit. All the main parties are trying to get support in inner city marginal seats, and that's where Asians are located."

Undervalued

In a handful of what would traditionally be called solid Labour areas - Birmingham Ladywood, Birmingham Hall Green and Poplar and Limehouse - the Muslim community makes up between 40%-65% of the population.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats do not have the software being used by the Conservatives, and their efforts towards earning the support of British Asians is through the more conventional canvassing methods used for decades.

Another significant benchmark in the forthcoming election is the potential election of Britain's first ever Asian female MPs.

Major parties are fielding candidates in winnable seats and there may be a handful of women politicians from the Asian community in the House of Commons by the summer.

Priti Patel is the Conservative candidate for Witham, while Labour have Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow), Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham Ladywood) and Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) as prospective parliamentary candidates.

However, Muhammad Anwar believes there is still under representation of Asians at the top level of politics.

"Asians make up 10% of the population so 10% of the MPs we have should be Asian if Parliament reflected modern society," he reasoned.

"The real figure is just a fraction of that. The Asian vote is growing in significance but is massively undervalued by the main parties."

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