Indian-Americans overwhelmingly support Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the upcoming US elections, with no evidence of the community drifting towards the Republicans because of close ties between US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi or a belief that the Democrats are “anti-India”, according to a new survey of expected voting behaviour released on Wednesday.
“The data show that Indian-Americans continue to be strongly attached to the Democratic Party, with little indication of a shift toward the Republican Party,” says the report on the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey, conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Johns Hopkins University in partnership with the research and analytics firm YouGov. “In addition, Indian-Americans view US-India relations as a low priority issue in this electoral cycle, emphasizing instead nationally salient issues such as healthcare and the economy.”
The survey was conducted over twenty days in the month of September, recording the responses of 936 Indian-American citizens in the US. It carries an error margin of 3.2%.
It looks at the voting preferences of one of the most rapidly growing ethnic communities in the US. There were approximately 4.16 million people of Indian descent in the US in 2018, with 2.62 million of them being US citizens. Out of them, 1.9 million citizens are eligible to vote in the upcoming election – 0.82% of all eligible voters in the US.
Democrats vs Republicans
The Indian-American voting bloc has traditionally supported the Democratic Party in the past and is projected to do the same even in the 2020 elections. The Indian American Attitudes Survey dismisses claims of previous studies that have suggested that there will be a significant rise in the number of Indian Americans voting in favour of Trump.
According to the survey, 72% of registered Indian American voters are planning on voting for Biden, while 22% said that they will vote for Trump.
Earlier, the National Asian American Survey said that in 2016, 77% of Indian-Americans voted for Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton while 16% voted for Trump.
Another survey in 2020 had suggested that there was indeed a shift of Indian-American voters towards the Republicans, though the report – by AAPI Data – had a sample size of just 260 people who identified as Indian, and was part of a broader effort to understanding the concerns of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The IAAS survey looked at a much larger sample of Indian-Americans, and much more closely at their voting preferences.
“The big takeaway from these numbers is that there is scant evidence in the survey for the widespread defection of Democratic voters toward Trump—contrary to popular narratives that have surfaced in the media,” the IAAS report for 2020 said.
“Furthermore, there is little evidence of a significant evolution in partisan allegiances since 2016. The vast majority (91%) of Indian Americans who voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton plan to support Biden in 2020,” the report added. “A smaller percentage of Indian Americans who voted for Trump in 2016 (68%) plan to support him again in 2020. While this suggests a higher rate of disaffection with Trump, it is difficult to draw strong inferences given the small overall sample size of Trump voters.”
What explains this strong, continuing tilt towards the Democrats among Indian-Americans?
“Interestingly, the most common reason Indian Americans do not identify with the Republican Party is the belief that it is intolerant of minorities, a response given by 27% of non-Republican respondents,” the report said. “The second most common reason (19%) selected is that the Republican Party is too influenced by Christian evangelicalism. An equal share (16%) disagrees with the Republicans on their stances on gun control and legal immigration.”
The survey also stated 39% of the respondents of the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey believe that Democrats do a better job of managing the ties between the US and India, while 18% believe that the Republican Party is better at it.
The Kamala Harris factor
Joe Biden’s nomination of Indian-origin senator Kamala Harris as his running mate has created a stir in the political circles, and it was speculated that the decision would have a huge impact in drawing the immigrant community towards Democrats. The survey reaffirms the belief that Harris’s nomination has enthused Indian-Americans about supporting Biden, even though most of them were already leaning towards the Democratic Party.
Out of the 936 respondents, 49% reported that a possibility of having Harris as the Vice President made them “more enthusiastic” about Biden’s candidacy, while 15% said that the decision made them less enthusiastic about the same.
Harris’s inter-racial roots and her previous positions on the Indian domestic policy are considered to be the major reasons for the disenchantment of just 15% Indian Americans. Harris had once said, “We are all watching,” while answering a question on the Indian government’s decision to alter the special status of Jammu & Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution.
Almost 31% surveyed members of the immigrant community said that the development “makes no difference” for them.
Much has been made over the past few months about whether US President Donald Trump’s friendship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attract more Indian-Americans to the Republican camp or, conversely, whether the Democrats’ criticism of Modi’s moves like the unilateral stripping of autonomy from Kashmir or the discriminatory Citizenship Act amendments will affect the views of the community.
The survey has concluded that Indian Americans do not view US-India relations as an important factor to decide who to vote for in the upcoming elections. In fact, for most Americans of Indian origin, the priority is for “the US to be strong at home”.
Only a meagre 3% of the surveyed Indian-American voters said that the relations between the US and India will influence their choices while voting in the upcoming presidential election. For the community, “kitchen-table issues” rank higher than foreign policy concerns.
“The issue of US-India relations is among the least important influencers of respondents’ vote choice. Just 3% named it as their number one issue (only sexism/gender discrimination is chosen less often),” the report said. “Just 7% reported that a candidate’s position on India will be one of the most important issues shaping their vote choice.”
Moreover, the survey found that a larger portion of the community expects the Democrats to conduct the US-India relationship better than Trump’s Republicans.
“Contrary to the emerging narrative, Indian-Americans favour the Democratic Party to the Republican Party by a greater than two-to-one margin. 39% of respondents reported that the Democratic Party does a better job on US-India relations while 18% believe the Republican Party is better, although this may well reflect their underlying preferences for the Democratic Party,” the report said.
Issues of importance
The survey concluded that rather than placing importance on US-India relations, Indian Americans are more drawn towards economy and healthcare as key issues of importance guiding their vote choice in the upcoming election.
The economy was selected as the most important issue by 19% respondents, while healthcare came in a close second, with 18% respondents feeling that it is the most important issue. Racism, taxes, and government corruption were seen as other important factors guiding the immigrant community’s voters.
The Modi factor
The camaraderie between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi has been widely documented over the past few years, and it has been suggested often that it could have an impact on drawing Indian American voters towards Trump. Modi visited Houston, Texas in September 2019 to attend an event named after him – Howdy Modi – and promoted the slogan “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkaar” (Trump’s government for the next US election). The event, and the slogan, were seen as Modi’s endorsement to Trump’s reelection.
The Indian prime minister was placed at a mean rating of 55 on a “feeling thermometer”, thereby not clearly stating his impact on the US presidential election. A “feeling thermometer” is a research methodology that allows respondents to rate subjects on a scale of 1-100. Here, it is used to denote an increasing order of favourability.
The respondents were also asked to rate the job that Modi is doing as the prime minister of the country, and 48% of them said that they approved of it. Thirty-two percent, however, expressed disapproval, while 20% had no opinion of Modi’s work.