Standing at a significant four million-plus population, Indian Americans are one of the fastest-growing ethnic minority groups in the United States. And that fact hasn’t been missed by both the presidential candidates in the run-up to the big election in November.
US President Donald Trump has leaned heavily on his perceived rapport with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a way of endearing himself to the community. Democrat Joe Biden, meanwhile, made waves by picking Kamala Harris – whose mother moved to the US from India in the 1950s – as the vice-presidential candidate on his ticket.
But how will the community vote in November?
A new survey presented by AAPI Data, an organisation that collects data on people of Asian and Pacific Island origin in the US, and non-profit organisation Indiaspora, sought to look into this question.
According to AAPI Data, 1.8 million Indian Americans in the US are eligible to vote in the November election. The organisation conducted interviews of 260 registered voters, regardless of party affiliation, who identify as Asian Indian to get a sense of political trends withing the community.
54% of Indian-American registered voters surveyed said that they had already voted in the primaries this year, and 98% said they were planning to vote in the November election. The AAPI data carries an error margin of 6%.
The survey found that as many as 65% of Indian-American voters faour Democrat candidate Joe Biden for president, while 28% are backing a second term for President Donald Trump.
This suggests that the community, which has traditionally leaned towards the Democrats, continues to do so – and in greater numbers than most other Asian American populations in the United States.
The data, however, also suggests that, despite the presence of an Indian-American on the ticket, support for the Democrats has actually fallen from 2016, when 77% of Indian-Americans backed candidate Hillary Clinto, according to the National Asian American Survey.
Moreover, only 16% of Indian Americans said they voted for Trump in 2016, while the figure in the AAPI Data survey for 2020 has gone up to 28%.
Party identification reflected much less affinity with the Democrats than voting intention with only 54% of the Indian American community’s surveyed members identifying themselves as Democrats, 16% as Republicans, and 28% as Independents.
With the caveat that these are two different surveys, the numbers do reflect a change from the post-election survey in 2016, when an even smaller percentage of Indian-Americans said they thought of themselves as Democrat, with a much larger portion identifying as Independents.
In terms of candidate favourability, an overwhelming majority of Indian Americans favour Biden – the maximum among all Asian communities. When it comes to President Trump, 53% of Indian Americans categorised themselves as “very unfavourable” towards the President.
Growth and influence
According to the estimates of the American Community Survey, the number of Indians in the US grew by almost 49% – from 17.8 lakh to 26.5 lakh – between 2010 and 2018. Among Asian American groups in the US, people of Indian origin are known to hold the highest median household income. They are also most likely to have at least a bachelor’s degree.
An analysis by the Migration Policy Institute suggests that California, Texas, and New Jersey are the top three states of the US where people of Indian origin reside. While California and New Jersey are historically Democrat-dominant states, Texas has a history of preferring the Republican candidate during presidential elections.
Wooing the community
Both presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump are going the extra mile to influence the Indian-American community to vote in their favour. One of the most important factors to raise the stakes for the community in the upcoming election was the selection of senator Kamala Harris as Biden’s running mate.
Harris has proudly flaunted her Indian roots on various occasions and even used the Tamil word “chithi” to address her aunt during her speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
The senator also picked Sabrina Singh as her press secretary. Singh is the first person of Indian origin in the US to be appointed the press secretary to a vice-presidential nominee of a major political party. She has previously held the post of spokesperson for Democratic presidential candidates Jersey Senator Cory Booker and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg.
On India’s Independence Day, a policy document released by Biden’s campaign stated that “no common global challenge can be solved without India and the United States working as responsible partners”. “Together, we will continue strengthening India’s defence and capabilities as a counter-terrorism partner, improving health systems and pandemic response, and deepening cooperation in areas such as higher education, space exploration, and humanitarian relief.”
At a virtual event, Democratic National Committee Chairman Thomas Perez said that the Indian-American vote can be an “absolute difference maker” in the upcoming US presidential elections.
On the other hand, the Trump campaign released a video titled “Four more years” that featured glimpses of “Namaste Trump” and “Howdy Modi” events that the President addressed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India and the US respectively. The video was aimed at wooing the Indian-American community in the US by harnessing the close relations of the leaders of the two countries together.
President Trump’s campaign has also created coalitions – Indian Voices for Trump, Hindu Voices for Trump, Sikhs for Trump, and Muslim Voices for Trump – to engage community members in defeating Democratic candidate Biden, a PTI report said.
“These four campaign coalitions represent groups that strongly support the values of President Trump and the Republican Party: freedom, democracy, and the American Dream,” Ashley Hayek, Trump 2020 Director of Coalitions, was quoted as saying.