The relative wealth of Indian immigrants and high education levels has propelled a rapid political ascent for the community.
A range of factors, such as the relative wealth of Indian immigrants and high education levels, has propelled a rapid political ascent for the community in just a decade, according to the New York Times.
Despite being one of the largest immigrant groups in the United States, Americans of Indian descent were barely represented in politics ten years ago â€” with a single Congressman and fewer than 10 Indian Americans serving in state legislature.
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Today five Indian Americans are members of the US House. Nearly 50 are in state legislatures. Vice President Kamala Harris is Indian American and two of them are running for President â€” Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, both Republican, it noted.
In parts of the government, â€œweâ€™ve gone literally from having no one to getting close to parity,â€ Neil Makhija, executive director of Impact, an Indian American advocacy group, told the Times.
The influential daily cited activists, analysts, and current and former elected officials, including four of the five Indian Americans in Congress, to describe an array of forces that have bolstered the political influence of Indian Americans.
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â€œA range of factors, such as the relative wealth of Indian immigrants and high education levels, has propelled a rapid political ascent for the second and third generations,â€ the Times said.
Advocacy groups â€” including Impact and the AAPI Victory Fund â€” have mobilized to recruit and support them, and to direct politiciansâ€™ attention to the electoral heft of Indian Americans, whose populations in states such as Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas are large enough to help sway local, state and federal races, it said.
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â€œItâ€™s really all working in tandem,â€ Raj Goyle, a former state lawmaker in Kansas who co-founded Impact, was quoted as saying. â€œThereâ€™s a natural trend, society is more accepting, and there is deliberate political strategy to make it happen.â€
â€œWithin the Indian American community, political involvement wasnâ€™t really a high priority, because I think people were much more focused on establishing themselves economically and supporting their community endeavors,â€ Raja Krishnamoorthi, House member from Illinois told the Times.
â€œI think that once they started seeing people like us getting elected and seeing why it mattered, then political involvement became a part of their civic hygiene.â€
Notably, the increase in Indian American representation is not centered on districts where Indian Americans are a majority, the Times said.
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Pramila Jayapal represents a Seattle-based district that is mostly white. Shri Thanedar represents a district in and around Detroit, a majority-Black city, and defeated eight Black candidates in a Democratic primary last year, the newspaper noted.
â€œThis is quite a different kind of phenomenon than what we often are seeing from Latino and Black representation,â€ Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College in Southern California and a senior researcher at AAPI Data, a group that provides information about Asian Americans was quoted as saying. â€œIt means theyâ€™re pulling a coalition of support behind them.â€
She and Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Riverside, and founder of AAPI Data, pointed to characteristics of Indian American communities that may have eased their movement into politics.
Immigrants from India are often highly educated and, because of the legacy of British colonization, often speak English, â€œwhich lowers barriers to civic engagement,â€ Ramakrishnan told the Times.
India is also a democracy, which Ramakrishnanâ€™s research has shown means Indian Americans are more likely to engage in the American democratic system than immigrants from autocratic countries.
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Indian American voters are overwhelmingly Democratic: 74% voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race, more than voters of other Asian backgrounds, Times noted citing a survey by AAPI Data, APIAVote and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
In primaries, that means fewer Indian American voters for Republicans to draw on. In general elections, it makes it harder for Republicans to tap into a base excited to promote its own representation, it said.
In a 2020 study, nearly 60% of Indian Americans did say they would be open to voting for an Indian American candidate â€œregardless of their party affiliation.â€
â€œIndian Americans really want to see more Indian Americans elected to office, and in the survey that we conducted, that was true even if it meant someone from another party,â€ said Sadhwani, one of the 2020 studyâ€™s authors. â€œMy sense is that there will be a lot of excitement amongst Indian Americans to see Nikki Haley stepping into this role.â€
The Times cited experts and politicians as saying support for an easier immigration process, and opposition to nativism and xenophobia, were major factors in Indian Americansâ€™ political preferences. Makhija said climate change and other scientific issues resonated, too.
â€œIronically, the very increase in representation of which Haley is part could make her ethnicity less compelling to voters not convinced by her policies,â€ the Times suggested.
â€œI do think that the more we have diversity, the more the actual ideological views will be paramount,â€ Jayapal was quoted as saying.
â€œOnce weâ€™re not sort of wowed by the fact that thereâ€™s an Indian American woman running for whatever office it is, I think weâ€™ll be able to focus more on the actual ideas. And that should be the way it is.â€