Survey of nearly 1,000 Indian-Americans shows majority behind Democratic ticket

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Indian American Impact Fund held a videoconference Photo: Twitter iaimpactfund

A survey conducted jointly by the Carnegie Foundation in partnership with the research and analytics firm YouGov, finds an overwhelming percentage of Indian-American voters are behind the Democratic ticket of Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, D-California.

Even though Indian Americans comprise slightly more than 1 percent of the total U.S. population—and less than 1 percent of all registered voters—both major parties are leaving no stone un-turned in reaching out to this community, notes the study released Oct. 14, 2020.

Both parties appear to have concluded that even this small voting population could swing a race in battleground states and districts, which could account for the oversize attention. Each side has formed numerous campaign groups that include sections of the Indian-American voting population, for example Indian Voices for Trump, Hindus for Trump, Hindus for Biden, Sikhs for Trump, to name just a few.

The Carnegie study also reaches a similar conclusion when it notes that, “… 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.”

Since 2016, following the election of President Trump, leading Indian-Americans like Shekar Narasimhan, founder of the political action committee, AAPI Victory Fund, along with others, began looking at the vote count for Indian Americans and Asian Americans.

On July 19, this year, Narasimhan told News India Times, data showed the strength of this relatively small vote bank of Indian Americans, and of Asian Americans. It was the day after Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, speaking to a gathering of Indian-Americans via a videoconference, quoted that data to highlight how Indian-Americans could make the difference between winning and losing the Presidential elections.

“It’s the first time we did it. We made everybody in the Democratic Party pay attention to this demographic.”

According to Narasimhan, the 1.3 million eligible voters of Indian descent had seen its participation increase in every election. “Even in midterm elections, we are the highest voting minority,” he said. “I challenged the Democratic establishment and those listening, on why we should not be able to generate a million votes in these 8 states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin). And how to get them to vote Democratic? By paying attention to them,” Narasimhan said answering his own question.

And attention they got– from Joe Biden to everyone else down the line in the Democratic Party, though by using their own heavy hitters from former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma, head of the Center for American Progress Neera Tandon, Obama administration official Sonal Shah, to name just a few.

It was capped by Perez’ statements at the July 18, 2020 conference where he noted, “We lost Michigan by 10,700 votes in 2016,” the DNC chair said, where some 125,00 Indian-American votes could have more than covered that gap if turnout is good. Perez went on to say Pennsylvania was lost by around 43,000 votes when there 156,000 eligible Indian-American voters could have made it to the polls. In Wisconsin where there are an estimated 37,000 Indian-American voters, Perez pointed out Hillary Clinton lost by 21,000 votes in 2016.

Meanwhile, as November 3 looms, daily Zoom and Facebook meetings have been stepped up in recent weeks by the Biden and Trump campaigns, the former drawing on Asian American and Indian American influencers presumably in a bid to rope in any of the undecided Indian-Americans, of which there are an estimated more than 20 percent, a number that the Carnegie study also came up with.

The Carnegie survey found 56 percent of Indian-American voters thought of themselves as Democrats, 22 percent as Independent, and 15 percent as Republican. It also found that 72 percent of registered Indian-American voters said they would vote Democratic come November, and 22 percent would vote for Trump.

Interestingly, 75 percent of youth between 18 and 29 would give their vote to Biden, the highest of all age groups; vote by gender for Biden was equal between men and women (68 percent and 69 percent). Most significantly, 69 percent of Hindu Indian-Americans said they would vote for Biden, 22 percent said they would vote for Trump; 82 percent of those who said they were Muslim would vote for Biden and 10 percent for Trump.

Even though Indian-Americans have been overwhelmingly Democratic, “with the seemingly personal connection between President Trump and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the GOP and Republican Indian-Americans are convinced their supporters are increasing exponentially,” the report says.

The Carnegie/YouGov study talks of the community being in the spotlight because of “their growing affluence and influence in political circles,” but with an added benefit to Biden with his choice of Indian-American Harris as his running mate, raising concerns among Trump-Modi supporters that the alleged gains made during the Trump administration are endangered.

“But significant attention is also being paid to Indian Americans because a narrative is emerging that the apparent courtship between U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, compounded by concerns over how a Biden administration might manage U.S.-India ties, will push Indian Americans to abandon the Democratic Party in droves,” the study surmises.

This study finds no empirical evidence to support either of these claims,” claim authors of the study which was based on a “nationally representative” online survey of 936 Indian American citizens—the Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS). It was conducted between September 1 and September 20, and has an overall margin of error of +/- 3.2 percent.

Authors contend “this study provides an empirically robust and analytically nuanced picture of the diversity in attitudes of this important demographic.”

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 says.

Carnegie says the study of their attitudes was conducted because despite the rising political profile of Indian Americans, “their political attitudes are woefully under-studied.”

The objective of this study which is the first in a series, “is to harness new empirical data that can help characterize the political attitudes and preferences of Indian Americans.

The main conclusions of the study based on the survey are:

Seventy-two percent of registered Indian American voters plan to vote for Biden and 22 percent intend to vote for Trump in the 2020 November election.

— The economy and healthcare are the two most important issues influencing the vote choice of Indian Americans, and not U.S.-India relations.

— 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.

— While both U.S.-born and naturalized Indian Americans favor the Democratic Party, this tilt is more pronounced for U.S.-born Indian Americans. Political participation by naturalized citizens is more muted, however, manifesting in lower rates of voter turnout and weaker partisan identification.

Harris’s vice presidential candidacy has galvanized a large section of the Indian American community to turn out to vote. But 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.

— 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.

— Indian Americans believe Democrats do a better job of managing U.S.-India ties by a considerable margin while Republicans hold more favorable views of Modi.

The study contains numerous nuggets of information about the Indian-American community of interest during election season, and for future analysis of the actual outcome.

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