US Elections 2020: How Indian Americans have the power to swing the vote

With just over a month until the 2020 US presidential elections to go, both the ruling Republican Party and the Opposition Democratic Party are fully revved up to woo voters. And for both rivals, the Indian American vote is set to prove more important than ever before.

Indians are the fastest growing minority group in the US, and US President Donald Trump and presidential hopeful Joe Biden have been making determined efforts to reach out to the estimated 4.5 million voting bloc.

Both Republicans and Democrats have maintained a strong focus on US-India relations and are investing heavily into courting the Indian American electorate, with attractive campaign videos in Indian languages and a direct outreach with the community.

Voter survey

According to a recent voter survey carried out with the Indiaspora Forum and AAPI Data, 56 per cent of Indian Americans have been contacted by the Democratic Party in the past year and 48 per cent have been contacted by the Republicans.

Compared to the survey results from 2016, when only 31 per cent of Indian Americans had been contacted by any political party, it is clear that the electorate is in high demand.

‘iGlobal’ caught up with the Founder of Indiaspora Forum, M.R. Rangaswami, to tap into the pulse of the campaign in the US ahead of the November 3 election and why he feels the Indian diaspora’s votes are all the more important this time around.

“There are three reasons why Indian American votes matter more than they ever have,” he revealed.

Financial muscle

As the highest earning ethnic minority community in the US, a quarter of Indian American registered voters surveyed said they have contributed money to a candidate, political party or some other campaign organisation this year.

"Indian Americans are starting to flex their financial muscle in politics. By the end of June 2020, Indian Americans had donated at least $3 million to 2020 presidential campaigns. The community has never given this money to politics before," said Rangaswami.

From school boards to city councils, state assemblies and federal positions, there are also hundreds of Indian Americans running for office in this cycle.

“It’s almost impossible to track how many Indian Americans there are running for office this year.”

Battleground states

Indian American eligible voters are numerous in states such as Florida (87,000), Pennsylvania (61,000), Georgia (57,000), Michigan (45,000), and North Carolina (36,000). According to the findings of the survey, their biggest role in 2020 may be in Texas, which has 161,000 Indian American voters, many of whom have been contacted by both parties.

“Being the fastest growing minority group dispersed across the US means that the Indian American electorate has a significant presence in several competitive districts and battleground states.

“I jokingly say that they're actually learning to pronounce our names now. Until now, we were considered small and insignificant, but now we have arrived, politically.”

Approach to voting

Although Indian Americans are not a homogenous voting bloc, results from the survey suggest there are two main demographics of voters within the community.

“Those who are older, born in India and have immigrated to the US, tend to be more conservative and Trump has appealed to them. But their children, who were born in America, tend to be more liberal.”

Despite this, the report shows that Indian Americans are much more heterogeneous and nuanced in their approach to voting than this would suggest.

“It’s not going to be a case of “Trump and Modi are friends” so let’s go for Trump, or “Kamala Harris is Indian” so let’s vote for Biden. It’s going to be much more of an issues-based approach among the diaspora. A lot of people care about climate change and immigration, and have prioritised India’s relationship with the US much further down on their lists.”

India-US relations

Out of ten suggested issues listed in the survey, the area that participants were least concerned about was India-US bilateral relations.

“It’s not as important a topic on the minds of voters at this time. Having said that, we do want to see a strong relationship and true partnerships between the two nations but there is a belief that whether it’s the Republicans or Democrats, this will be the case.

“Whatever happens in November and January, there is going to be a reset. Whoever it is that comes into office, they will look at the India-US relationship with a fresh pair of eyes, and hopefully India will be in a very strong position because of the common issue of China, and trade and defence being such large components of our relationship.”

Digital campaign

Amid Covid-19 and social distancing restrictions, the face of campaigning has changed drastically this time around. From email to Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok and phone banking, a key strategy for both parties has been digital.

“In a very un-American fashion, there has been no knocking on doors and meeting people in person, but there is still a huge buzz and everyone is optimistic. The fact that we have both sides courting us on a daily basis makes us feel good.”

Trump’s efforts during the ‘Howdy Modi’ visit and his trips to Ahmedabad and Delhi have not gone unnoticed. And, his latest campaign video in Hindi has ramped up over 10 million views.

Polls have shown his popularity among the electorate too has increased from 16 per cent to 28 per cent over the course of his campaign. That said, the race is very much still on as 66 per cent of the Indian American community plan to vote for Biden, according to the Indiaspora survey.

by Vidhu Sharma

*Info: Indiaspora is 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. Its ‘Indian Americans Vote 2020: Voter Survey’, was conducted in association with AAPI Data.

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