Indian-Americans in the United States: What shapes their opinion

A study by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, analysed by Sumitra Badrinathan, Devesh Kapur and Milan Vaishnav, provide an insight into the Indian diaspora, not just their political leanings

Indian-Americans in the United States: What shapes their opinion

NHS Bureau

Indian Americans are one of the most rapidly growing immigrant groups in the United States, roughly doubling in size in each of the last four decades. In 2018, the size of the Indian American population stood at 4.16 million, out of which 2.62 million were U.S. citizens.

Of the citizen population, 1.4 million were naturalized citizens while 1.2 million were born in the United States. Of that group, the total eligible voter population is 1.9 million, or about 0.82 per cent of all eligible voters in the country.

The Indian American voting population is heavily foreign-born and growing rapidly.

As of 2018, about 14 per cent of the U.S. population was foreign-born. However, among Asian Indians (the appellation given Indian Americans by the U.S. Census), nearly 71 per cent were foreign-born. In 2018, out of all newly minted U.S. citizens (that is, those naturalized that year), 17 per cent were born in Mexico, 7 per cent in India, and 5 per cent each in China and the Philippines.

Two-thirds of Indian Americans entered the country after 2000.

In particular, Indians have been huge beneficiaries of America’s skills-based visa regime: India accounts for one out of every two H-1B (high-skilled worker) visas issued between 2001 and 2015. More than half of them (54 per cent) speak English “very well.”

Seventy-six per cent of Indian Americans hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 33 per cent nationwide. The median income for Indian American households is $120,000 (compared to $62,000 for the United States as a whole), while the share living in poverty—6.5 per cent—is half that of the U.S. population overall (13 per cent).

Seventy-five per cent of Indian American voters between the ages of 18 and 29 intend to vote for Biden; this proportion declines to 64 per cent for ages 30 to 49 before rising again to 69 per cent for those above the age of 50.

Indians of all religious faiths prefer Biden to Trump, but with important caveats.Muslim support for Biden (82 per cent) is considerably higher than Hindu support (67 per cent), which in turn is considerably higher than Christian support (49 per cent). The latter community is also the most supportive of Trump (45 per cent).

Support for Biden is greater among U.S.-born citizens (71 per cent) than naturalized citizens (66 per cent), although the two demonstrate equivalent support for Trump (22 per cent).

A key difference here is that more naturalized citizens report that they do not intend to vote in the November election.

Interestingly, the year of respondents’ arrival in the United States has little impact on vote choice, and the duration of stay in the United States shows no clear pattern: while those naturalised citizens who have lived in the United States between 11 and 25 years are the most likely to support Biden (70 per cent), support for Trump is greater among those who have lived in the United States for less than a decade (28 per cent). Indian American political attitudes do not exhibit a strong gender gap, in contrast to the U.S. population as a whole.

According to the September 13–15 Economist/YouGov weekly tracker poll of 1,500 U.S. adults (a survey fielded the same time as our own), among registered voters, male support for Trump and Biden was deadlocked at 45 per cent each.However, women favored Biden over Trump by a wide margin: 54 to 38 per cent.

In contrast, Indian American men and women both prefer Biden to Trump by considerable margins. Sixty-nine per cent of women and 68 per cent of men intend to vote for Biden this November, while just 19 per cent of women and 24 per cent of men plan to vote for Trump.

Even though Indian Americans comprise slightly more than 1 per cent of the total U.S. population—and less than 1 per cent of all registered voters—both major parties are leaving no stone unturned in reaching out to this community (perhaps mindful of the closeness of the 2016 elections).

For instance, Biden’s campaign issued a manifesto specifically aimed at Indian American voters.Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, recently shared an online advertisement wooing Indians in America with images of Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sharing the stage at a massive rally in Houston in September 2019.

However, there is an emerging narrative that suggests 2020 might well see a significant shift of Indian American voters to the Republican Party due to two factors: Trump’s perceived closeness to Modi, and/or criticisms (perceived or real) of the Modi government by prominent members of the Democratic Party, not least Biden’s running mate, Harris (who herself shares an Indian American identity).

Indeed, some recent survey data suggest that Indian American support for the Democratic Party in 2020 appears to have slipped somewhat from its 2016 level.

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.

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 Narendra Modi.

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