FRESNO, California, USA—The National Sikh Campaign (NSC) released the results of a long-awaited survey that showed dramatic success of the organization’s We Are Sikhs effort to help raise the American public’s understanding of their Sikh-American neighbors.
Although Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, it is the least understood major faith in the United States. Due to the ignorance about Sikhism and Sikh-Americans the community has faced a significant number of hate crimes and Sikh children have faced high rates of bullying since 9/11.
Since April, the We Are Sikhs campaign has been holding grassroots events in Gurdwaras across the United States and airing ads and presenting Sikhs as neighbors and proud Americans on channels such as CNN & and Fox News, nationwide. The campaign then ran a comprehensive effort in the local media market of Fresno, California, where tens of thousands of Sikhs live and where violence towards Sikh Americans has been occurring repeatedly in the past few years, including two deaths in the recent months. The Fresno effort included grassroots events, television ads, digital ads, and significant news coverage.
To test whether the effort in California’s Central Valley was successful, two polling surveys were conducted. One poll was conducted prior to the launch of the digital and television advertising and one poll was conducted after the completion of the ad campaign. The surveys’ highlights included:
- 59 percent of Fresno residents – a clear majority – say they know at least something about Sikhs who live in America.
- 68% saw Sikhs as good neighbors and 64% saw Sikhs as generous and kind.
- The proportion of residents who saw the ads are nearly twice as likely to say they know at least something about Sikhs who live in America (78 percent) than those who did not see the ads (40 percent).
- 57 percent who saw the ads are also more likely to associate a bearded man wearing a turban with Sikhism.
- 67 percent of Fresno residents who saw the Sikh ads believe that Sikhs believe in equality and respect for all people.
- 60 percent of Fresno residents that saw the Sikhs ad believe Sikhs have American values.
- The proportion of Fresno residents who know nothing about Sikhs decreased, especially among older residents, whites without a college degree, and Republicans.
The campaign was able to successfully establish Sikhism as an independent faith in the eyes of many (58%). A similar 2015 nationwide survey before the campaign had shown that a solid majority of Americans had no clue about Sikhs or Sikhism and would associate Sikh physical identity with extremism.
Dr. Rajwant Singh, co-founder and senior adviser of the National Sikh Campaign further added, “We are thankful to all Sikhs for their confidence in this strategy and a well-planned approach to create awareness about Sikh faith. This is the first time that an immigrant community like ours has reached out to all Americans to create understanding. This is not an end and we must continue on this path.”
The We Are Sikhs messaging and strategy was developed by AKPD, the firm that developed messaging and strategy of President Obama’s famous 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, Hart Research Associates, which does strategy work for the World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Harvard University, and FP1 Strategies, a conservative and Republican leaning marketing team which has done strategy work for President Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaign. President Bill Clinton’s speech writer planned and edited the content of the website WeAreSikhs.org. NSC held fundraising events in 14 cities to garner support from the community and the total cost of this campaign has cost $1.3 Million.
The ads showed Sikhs as part and parcel of American society while explaining that Sikhs and turban stands for equality and respect of all religions. “I’m obsessed with ‘Star Wars,'” says a turbaned man who appears in one of the videos. “I’ve seen every episode of ‘SpongeBob,’ because that’s what my daughters like to watch,” says another. Sikhs are seen as fans of “Game of Thrones”. These ads were based on the survey and on the input received via focus groups convened by the NSC. These ads narrate who Sikhs are in a manner to which common Americans can relate. These ads were tested before the launch and had shown a significant jump in people having respect for Sikhs. Thousands of Americans also visited WeAreSikhs.org website and left positive notes following watching the ad on TV.