A poll of Indian Americans has found that 66% of respondents favour Democrat Joe Biden for the presidential election in November, while President Donald Trump trails way behind at 28%.
But Trump has made considerable headway, coming up from 16% in 2016, according to the Indiaspora-AAPI Data survey released on Tuesday.
The poll also affirmed the growing clout of the Indian American community’s 1.8 million registered voters — 56% of them reported being contacted by Democrats and 48% by Republicans, compared to only 31% reached by any party in 2016.
As a community with the highest earnings, Indian Americans are also “flexing their financial muscle” as the survey put it. A quarter of those polled said they had made donations to a candidate, political party or some other campaign body this year; $3 million anecdotally, with double-digit aspirations.
A majority of Indian Americans, 54%, identified themselves, Democrats, while the second biggest group of 24% identified themselves as Independents and only 16% called themselves Republican, compared to 45%, 35% and 19% respectively in 2016.
The most significant shift, or the beginning of it, was reflected in the numbers for the race for the White House. While Indian Americans’ support for Biden was overwhelming at 66%, it was far lower than the 77% support for Hillary Clinton, then-Democratic nominee, in 2016, and the brutal 84% that President Barak Obama got in the 2012 election.
Trump, on the other hand, has gone up from 12% in 2016 to 28% and could go up to 30% if he and Biden split up the 6% undecided respondents proportional to their current tallies.
That should worry Democrats. “The Biden campaign has to be especially attentive” and should conduct a vigorous outreach to the community, said Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. Eventually, he added, these voters will “come home” to the Democratic Party because of their concerns about other issues, specially Covid-19.
Neeraj Antani, a Republican member of the Ohio state legislature, attributed Trump’s expanding support among Indian Americans to the president’s outreach to the community, his visit to India in February and for standing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and neutrality on issues like Citizenship Amendment Act and the abrogation of Article 370 on the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, as opposed to Biden’s opposition to those issues.
Biden campaign’s position on Article 370 and the CAA has indeed antagonised a section of Indian Americans and has led to talk that a Biden administration will be less friendly to India.
The former vice-president has sought to address those concerns and assured the community that relations with India will be a “high priority” for his administration if elected. He promised that his administration will also prevent China from acting with “impunity” and show no tolerance for cross-border terrorism, putting Pakistan on notice. He also rolled out an expansive plan for Indian Americans, focusing on hate crimes and immigration.
As part of its outreach to the community, the Trump campaign has released a video of a clip from Howdy Modi and Namaste Trump events the president attended with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the US and India respectively, highlighting their relationship and support of the cheering crowds.
The community is being wooed aggressively by both parties, as the survey findings showed — 56% reported being contacted by Democrats and 58% by Republicans compared to merely 31% by any party in 2016, far below than 44% for white voters and 42% for white voters.
The reasons are fairly simple. Trump won the 2016 election with narrow victory margins in key battleground states, which he can hold on to with the support of Indian Americans, or lose them if Democrats are able to persuade the community to vote for Biden, and in larger numbers.
Indian Americans have the numbers that both Biden and Trump would want in these states. “Indian Americans are positioned to make a difference in several swing states that may be close in this election, such as Florida ( 87,000 ), Pennsylvania (61,000), Georgia (57,000), Michigan (45,000), and North Carolina (36,000), and perhaps even Texas, which has 160,000 Indian-American voters,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside, and founder of AAPI Data.
He added that a high turnout is driven by Senator Kamala Harris’s “historic vice-presidential nomination” and the “highly publicised” Houston and Ahmedabad rallies that Trump and Modi held together “could make a huge difference in this election”.
M R Rangaswami, the founder of Indiaspora, said, “Given the Indian diaspora’s increasing political importance in the US, it’s no surprise they are being courted by both sides of the aisle.”
He added: “It’s great that both major political parties have begun to realise just how critical it is to reach out to Indian Americans – our impact is only going to increase over time.”