A new opinion poll has projected that 72% of Indian American respondents will vote for Democrat Joe Biden in the ongoing 2020 presidential election and found that Republican President Donald Trump’s support in the community, at 22%, had not grown as significantly as suggested by a separate poll earlier.
The 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS) was conducted among 936 Indian American citizens between September 1 and September 20, by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins University and Princeton in partnership with YouGov, a research and analysis firm.
It showed Indian-Americans ranked ties between India and the United States as the 11th of 12 factors influencing their voting decision, ahead only of sexism. This would call into question a narrative forwarded by Trump supporters and other Republicans that Indian Americans were gravitating towards the president because of his silence on the change in the status of Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act, which has been criticised by Biden.
The poll found that 48% of Indian Americans approved of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s job performance, while 32% disapproved and 20% had no opinion. Republicans in the community had a more favourable view of the prime minister and most Indians said Democrats do a better job of managing US-Indian relations than Republicans, 39% to 18% (22% said they found no difference).
Another significant finding is that the selection of Indian-descent senator Kamala Harris as Biden’s running mate will not change voting preferences, but her selection had mobilised Indian Americans to vote.
“The big takeaway from these numbers is that there is scant evidence in the survey for the widespread defection of Democratic voters toward Trump,” said the report released on Wednesday. “There is little evidence of a significant evolution in partisan allegiances since 2016. The vast majority (91%) of Indian Americans who voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 plan to support Biden in 2020.”
The survey found that 72% of registered Indian American voters planned to vote for Biden, compared to 22% for Trump. Biden’s support was seen to have slipped in an earlier poll — the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey (AAVS) — to 65% from 77% who had said they had voted for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, in 2016.
Trump’s support in the AAVS, at the same time, had grown from 16% Indian Americans who said they had voted for him in 2016 to 28% who said they will vote for him in 2020, triggering talk of a significant shift in the community towards the president, setting off alarm bells in the Biden campaign and the Democratic party, which had long enjoyed the solid support of India-descent Americans.
Milan Vaishnav, one of the authors of the IAAS report who had also moderated the launch of the AAVS findings in September, said changes in Biden and Trump’s support could be the result of the difference in the timing of the two polls — the earlier poll was conducted between July and September the new one in September.
“It’s possible that people’s views changed as the campaign progressed. A lot happened this summer,” he added. But he also went on to point to the difference in the sample size of the two polls — the earlier poll was conducted among 260 registered Indian American voters, compared to the nearly 1,000 in the new poll, which had an impact on the margin of error: +/- 6% to IAAS’s 3.2%.
The IAAS found Indian Americans “solidly” with the Democratic party, as had the AAVS, reflecting an unchanging landscape. Their findings tracked closely — 56% of the respondents in the new poll self-identified themselves as Democrats, 15% as Republicans and 22% as Independents; corresponding numbers for the earlier poll were 54%, 16% and 24%.
Indian Americans, a tiny but prosperous community of 4.16 million people (2.62 million US citizens) are getting unprecedented attention in US elections this time.
Their 1.9 million (1.8 million, according to AAVS) registered voters could play a key role in deciding the outcome in battleground states that tend to be won or lost by wafer-thin margins.
Both campaigns have wooed the community. Biden rolled out an expansive agenda that promises fixes for immigration problems such as Green Card waiting lines and social issues such as hate crimes; and better India-US ties under a Biden presidency.
The Trump campaign and Republicans have sought to build on the president’s relationship with the prime minister and the two public events they addressed jointly in Houston and Ahmedabad to reach into the Indian American community for support, and the president’s silence on Kashmir and the CAA.
Neeraj Antani, a Republican member of the Ohio state legislature, had said, referring to the AAVS report, that Trump’s support among Indian Americans was growing because of president’s outreach to the community, his visit to India in February and for “standing with the Prime Minister and neutrality on issues like CA (Citizenship Act) and the abrogation of (Article) 370, as opposed to Vice President Biden’s opposition to those issues.”
IAAS found that Indian Americans did not rank India-US relations as a factor important enough to have a bearing on their voting decision; they placed it behind economy, healthcare, racism, taxes, corruption, immigration, environment, income inequality, terrorism and education, and just ahead of sexism. India-US relations was cited among the top three issues by only 4% of the respondents. The earlier poll had found a similar lack of enthusiasm for bilateral relations as an electoral factor.