Updated: October 16, 2020 7:59:12 am
Days ahead of the November 3 US election, a survey has found that while almost half of Indian Americans approve of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s performance, they remain steadfastly Democratic despite the apparent courtship between Modi and US President Donald Trump — 68 per cent plan to vote for Joe Biden and 22 per cent for Trump. The survey, by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Pennsylvania, and released on Wednesday, however, found that Indian Americans voting for incumbent Trump have a much more favourable view of Modi (at a rating of 76 out of 100) than those voting for Democratic candidate Biden (52/100).
The survey comes even as the 41.61 lakh-strong community finds its voting choices in the spotlight given one, their view on politics back in India and two, the Democrats’ choice of Indian-origin Kamala Harris as vice-presidential candidate. “While Republicans are more bullish on Modi, it is worth pointing out that Democrats still largely view him favourably. The simple notion that Trump supporters are Modi supporters and Modi opponents are Trump opponents does not find support,” Milan Vaishnav, lead researcher and Senior Fellow, South Asia Program at Carnegie, told The Indian Express.
Indian Americans have traditionally voted for the Democratic Party — as many as 93 per cent voted for Barack Obama in 2008. The Democrats have, however, been incrementally losing the community’s votes to the Republicans in every election since then.
Almost half of the Indian Americans (48 per cent) surveyed approve of PM Narendra Modi’s performance while 32 per cent disapprove.
Yet, the survey found, “there may be a floor to Modi’s favorability; while Trump supporters have a higher opinion of Modi, Trump’s detractors are divided on their views on the Indian prime minister”. Those who disapprove of Trump are split on Modi, with roughly 40 per cent approving and 40 per cent disapproving of him.
“Indian Americans have actually become a talking point in this election in a way that very few of us could have ever imagined… The spectre of Modi coming to power in 2014 undoubtedly created some cleavages within the Indian American community. And one of those cleavages is the way Indian Americans view the Prime Minister. But to what extent are Indian Americans going to vote on the basis of India? I am very sceptical about this,” Vaishnav said.
The survey, conducted in September on a representative sample of 1,200 Indian Americans, said that “contrary to the emerging narrative, Indian Americans favour the Democratic Party to the Republican Party by a greater than two-to-one margin”. The community’s support for Biden (68 per cent) is higher than that of Hispanic voters (64 per cent) and close to that of African American voters (79 per cent).
The survey found that while US-India relations were top priority for only three per cent of those surveyed, when asked, half of the respondents said a candidate’s position on India will be “very important” or “somewhat important” to their vote. Support for Trump amongst Indian Americans is highest among those who identify as Hindu (22 per cent for Trump) and Christian (45 per cent), while only 10 per cent of Muslim Indian Americans plan to vote for Trump. Almost half of Indian Americans (45%) said Harris’s pick made them more likely to vote in the election.
There is an even split amongst Indian Americans about how they see Trump’s handling of relations with India. Less than a quarter “strongly approve” while exactly a quarter “strongly disapprove”.
While two-thirds (67 per cent) of Democratic Indian Americans opposed Trump’s “Muslim ban” (the administration had placed restrictions on travel to the United States for citizens from Muslim-majority countries), only a fourth (28 per cent) of Republicans do. Interestingly, the only topic on which Democratic and Republican Indian Americans converge is university admissions. Roughly half of both groups oppose affirmative action in higher education.
Two other defining characteristics split the Indian American voting patterns: time spent in the US and region. Of those who have only lived in the US for 10 or fewer years, only 28 per cent plan to vote for Trump. Similarly, those in the Midwest — a region with the highest number of battleground states that could go either way in November — plan to vote for Trump at 27 per cent, while those in the South plan to vote for him at 24 per cent.
Even among the Indian Americans who have registered as Republicans, only 44 per cent “strongly approve” of Trump and 27 per cent “approve” of him.
Economy, healthcare, and racism were the most important issues for Indian Americans.
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