Kamala Harris, Trump-Modi bonhomie factors unlikely to sway Indian Americans: Survey

Trump-Biden debate

Indian Americans strongly favor Democrats; scant evidence of defection to Trump.

Even though Indian American make up less than one percent of all registered voters—both Republicans and Democrats are wooing them in earnest thanks to their growing affluence and influence and Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate

A new survey suggests Indian American voters are unlikely to be swayed by either Democrat Biden’s selection of Indian origin Harris or apparent courtship between US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS) notes that significant attention is also being paid to Indian Americans because of an emerging narrative that Trump-Modi friendship, “compounded by concerns over how a Biden administration might manage US-India ties, will push Indian Americans to abandon the Democratic Party in droves.”

READ MORE: Road to the White House

But the study finds no empirical evidence to support either of these claims. It was conducted among 936 Indian American citizens between Sept. 1 and Sept. 20, by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins University and Princeton in partnership with YouGov, a research and analysis firm.

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.

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.

Recent anecdotal narratives notwithstanding, there is scant evidence that Democratic voters are defecting toward Trump and the Republican Party, the study says.

Seventy-two percent of registered Indian American voters plan to vote for Biden and 22 percent intend to vote for Trump in the Nov 3 election, it projects.

READ: Indian Americans most inclined to vote for Joe Biden: survey (September 18, 2020)

For comparison’s sake, the 2020 pre-election AAVS survey of registered voters found that 65 percent of Asian Indians are inclined to vote for Biden, 28 percent for Trump, 6 percent are undecided, and just 1 percent intend to back another candidate.

Of citizens who identify as Democrats, 89 percent plan to vote for Biden, while a slightly smaller share (80 percent) of Republicans plan to back Trump in November.

The survey suggests that 64 percent of respondents who identify as independents (about one-eighth of all Indian American voters) will back Biden, while 22 percent intend to vote for Trump, similar to the broader community’s overall political preferences.

There is also little evidence of a significant evolution in partisan allegiances since 2016, it says. The vast majority (91 percent) of Indian Americans who voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 plan to support Biden in 2020.

A smaller percentage of Indian Americans who voted for Trump in 2016 (68 percent) plan to support him again in 2020.

READ: Despite big shift towards Trump, two thirds of Indian Americans favor Biden (September 16, 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.

Four demographic patterns in Indian Americans’ presidential vote choice stand out, it says.

First, there is no linear relationship between age and vote choice. Seventy-five percent of voters between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine intend to vote for Biden.

READ: Why Biden is better for Indian Americans and India-U.S. relations (September 22, 2020)

This proportion declines to 64 percent for ages thirty to forty-nine before rising again to 69 percent for those above the age of fifty. Age-wise, support for Trump essentially presents the mirror image.

Second, Indians of all religious faiths prefer Biden to Trump, but with important caveats. Muslim support for Biden (82 percent) is considerably higher than Hindu support (67 percent), which in turn is considerably higher than Christian support (49 percent). The latter community is also the most supportive of Trump (45 percent).

Third, support for Biden is greater among US-born citizens (71 percent) than naturalized citizens (66 percent), although the two demonstrate equivalent support for Trump (22 percent).

Fourth, Indian American political attitudes do not exhibit a strong gender gap, in contrast to the US population as a whole.

According to the September 13–15 Economist/YouGov weekly tracker poll of 1,500 US adults (a survey fielded the same time as our own), among registered voters, male support for Trump and Biden was deadlocked at 45 percent each.

However, women favored Biden over Trump by a wide margin: 54 to 38 percent. In contrast, Indian American men and women both prefer Biden to Trump by considerable margins.

Sixty-nine percent of women and 68 percent of men intend to vote for Biden this November, while just 19 percent of women and 24 percent of men plan to vote for Trump.

Overall, when comparing the IAAS top-line findings with those of the Economist/YouGov survey, Indian Americans appear to be situated somewhere between Black and Hispanic Americans in terms of the intensity of support for Biden’s candidacy and corresponding lack of enthusiasm for Trump’s, the study noted.

Key Findings

  • Indian Americans do not consider US-India relations to be one of the principal determinants of their vote choice in this election.
  • The economy and healthcare are the two most important issues influencing the vote choice of Indian Americans, although supporters of the two parties differ on key priorities. “Kitchen table” issues dominate over foreign policy concerns.
  • Indian Americans exhibit signs of significant political polarization. Just like the wider voting public
  • Republican and Democratic Indian American voters are politically polarized and hold markedly negative views of the opposing party and divergent positions on several contentious policy issues—from immigration to law enforcement.
  • US-born Indian American citizens tilt left compared to foreign-born citizens. While both US-born and naturalized Indian Americans favor the Democratic Party, this tilt is more pronounced for US-born Indian Americans.
  • Political participation by naturalized citizens is more muted, however, manifesting in lower rates of voter turnout and weaker partisan identification.
  • Harris has mobilized Indian Americans, especially Democrats. Harris’s vice presidential candidacy has galvanized a large section of the Indian American community to turn out to vote.
  • On balance, while the Harris pick might not change large numbers of votes (given the community’s historic Democratic orientation), her candidacy is linked to greater enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket.
  • A large section of Indian Americans view the Republican Party as unwelcoming. Indian Americans refrain from identifying with the Republican Party due, in part, to a perception that the party is intolerant of minorities and overly influenced by Christian evangelicalism.
  • Those who identify as Republicans are primarily moved to do so because of economic policy differences with the Democrats—with particularly marked differences regarding healthcare.
  • Political beliefs seep into perceptions of US-India bilateral relations. Indian Americans believe Democrats do a better job of managing US-India ties by a considerable margin while Republicans hold more favorable views of Modi.
  • Between 2000 and 2018, the Indian American population grew by nearly 150 percent, making it the second-largest immigrant group in America today, the study noted.
  • The community’s elevated levels of educational attainment and household income render its members valuable campaign contributors and potential mobilizers.
  • And in select swing states, the Indian American population is larger than the margin of victory that separated Hillary Clinton and Trump in the closely contested 2016 presidential race, the study noted.

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