An Indian American perspective on US Election 2020

An Indian American perspective on US Election 2020

As the US Presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden enters its final hours, our expert poll watchers from Indiaspora give us some insights into the Indian American voters who will play a crucial role in the outcome.

Without resorting to tired hyperbole, the 2020 American presidential election could be termed “historic” for several reasons. Not least from an Indian American perspective that Senator Kamala Harris, whose father is Black and mother was Indian, is the vice-presidential nominee of a major political party.

Harris’ selection as the Democratic running mate is symbolic, but isn’t the only reason to think that Indian Americans have arrived as a force to be reckoned with in US politics. It is estimated that at least 300 political candidates of Indian origin are contesting elections across various levels of government – federal, state and local.

Additionally, a ‘Los Angeles Times’ analysis of federal fundraising filings indicates that Indian Americans have contributed $5.4 million to Joe Biden and his allies, and $3 million to Donald Trump and his backers. Within 20 days of Harris being selected as the Democratic nominee for Vice-President, Indian Americans had contributed $1.2 million to the Biden-Harris campaign.

In terms of sheer numbers of eligible voters too, the Indian diaspora cannot be – and is not being – ignored by either party, including in several swing states. Both parties and presidential campaigns have lavished attention to the 1.8 million eligible Indian American voters, of whom, according to a recently conducted Indiaspora – AAPI Data survey, an overwhelming 98 per cent said they intended to vote in the presidential election.

Battleground states such as Texas (161,000), Florida (87,000), Pennsylvania (61,000), Georgia (57,000), Michigan (45,000) and North Carolina (36,000) have large numbers of Indian American voters. These numbers assume a special significance when one considers that Trump carried the state of Michigan in 2016 by a mere 10,000 votes and Pennsylvania by only 45,000.

Two reliable surveys conducted by reputable, nonpartisan organisations show Indian Americans as being firmly in the Democratic camp for the 2020 presidential election. This is not surprising given historical patterns.

In the 2016 presidential contest, 77 per cent of Indian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, whereas 16 per cent voted for Trump. In 2020, there appears to be a small shift towards Trump compared with four years ago. The Indiaspora – AAPI Data survey indicates a 66 per cent preference for Joe Biden and 28 per cent for Trump. The Carnegie Endowment – Johns Hopkins University survey polls Biden at 72 per cent of the Indian American vote, and Trump at 22 per cent.

Like the American electorate at large, these surveys indicate that Indian American voters care primarily about kitchen table issues like the economy, healthcare, taxes, racial discrimination, immigration and the environment. Somewhat surprisingly and perhaps counterintuitively, US-India relations is very low on the list of issues that most Indian American voters prioritise. Foreign policy experts across the political spectrum and neutral scholars opine that regardless of who wins the presidential election, US-India relations will remain on an even keel and continue their upward trajectory.

While there are significant differences in the policy platforms of the two candidates on certain issues like immigration and trade, which are important to India, it is broadly acknowledged that furthering US-India ties is an issue with bipartisan support in the United States. Indeed, the symbolic and substantively productive recent visit to New Delhi by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper for a “2+2” ministerial dialogue with their Indian counterparts, just days before a US election, underscores the continuing emphasis that both countries place on closer collaboration, no matter the political dispensation of those in government.

by Sanjeev Joshipura and Mansi Patel

Sanjeev Joshipura is the Executive Director and Mansi Patel is the Senior Manager, Communications and Outreach at Indiaspora – a non-profit organisation founded by M.R. Rangaswami in 2012 with the aim of transforming the success of the Indian diaspora into meaningful impact worldwide.

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