There’s one group of minority immigrants in the US that is surprisingly pro-Trump

Going against the political grain.
Going against the political grain.
Image: EPA/Rajat Gupta
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In mid-August, at a concert in New York City to celebrate the 70th anniversary of India’s independence, Anand Ahuja got into a playful argument with Hetal Gor. Inside the United Nations General Assembly Hall, Gor was explaining why she will vote for Hillary Clinton, and Ahuja chimed in with disparaging remarks about the Democratic presidential nominee.

“She has a track record,” said Gor, a New Jersey-based gynecologist, who grew up in Bombay.

“Of lies,” said Ahuja, a Nassau County lawyer, who co-founded the political action committee Indian Americans for Trump earlier this year.

Indian-Americans have historically been stalwarts of Democratic support: 65% of Indian-Americans identified with Democrats in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.

On the day of the concert, Trump said people coming to the US should be subjected to an ideological test.

Yet despite his anti-immigrant rhetoric, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seeing a surprising amount of support among Indian-Americans, many of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants.

In addition to Indian-Americans for Trump, the more religiously-focused group, Hindus for Trump, meets occasionally in Brooklyn—the group has an image of Trump sitting cross-legged on a lotus flower on its Facebook page. In July, the also religious Republican Hindu Coalition, which formed last year to increase the clout of Hindus in American politics, officially threw its weight behind Trump. The group’s co-founder, Shalabh Kumar, and his wife donated nearly $900,000 to the Trump Victory Fund because they liked the businessman’s “tough words for Pakistan” and his views on “Muslim profiling,” according to The Hill.

Indian-Americans are one of the wealthiest, most educated, and fastest-growing immigrant groups in the country, according to the Center for American Progress. Their ranks include Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains, as well as Muslims and Christians. And their vote is becoming increasingly important. Most polls lump the nearly three million Indian-Americans together with a broad, diverse grouping of Asian-Americans, so it’s hard to break out their voting clout. But Neil Malhotra, professor of political economy at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, estimates that by 2065, Asian-Americans could surpass African-Americans as a share of the electorate.

Indian-Americans are just starting to become more politically active,  which could be fueling at least part of the rise of Indian-American Trump groups. First generation Indian-Americans “kept their heads down and focused on livelihood and family,” said Shekar Narasimhan, founder of the AAPI Victory Fund, a super PAC trying to boost voting rates among Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. “When they go to work, they are Americans for eight hours a day, then Indians for the other 16 hours.”

While Indian-American support for Trump may be declaring itself on social media, it’s still likely only a minority view within the community. And Trump’s no-holds-barred campaigning is causing some who were initially drawn to support him to change their mind. Unlike other ethnic groups, no single issue unites Indian-Americans, said Malhotra and he predicts they will overwhelming vote for Clinton. Even though many of them demographically fit in with Republicans in terms of wealth and education, Indian-Americans generally identify with the Democratic party’s policies on gun-control, the environment, and other social issues.

Plus Malhotra said that Indian-Americans generally feel more welcomed by the Democratic party and socially excluded by Republicans. Those emotions often affect how people vote more than policy. “People are post-materialist at some point,” he said. “Once you get a certain amount of success in life, other things become more important.”

New analysis from Jonathan Rothwell, an economist at Gallup, backs him up. He found that Trump supporters were less-directly affected by trade and immigration than anticipated.

Instead, their support for the candidate has to do with “cultural preferences, a view of what America should be,” said Rothwell. His data show that most Indian-Americans are probably going to support Clinton. He found that 19% of people who are non-Christian, but still religious and Asian, support Trump, compared with 40%, who support Clinton.

“But neither candidate is very popular,” he said.

Indian-Americans also tend to mirror the voting patterns of their general geography. Because Indian-Americans are concentrated in blue states like New York and California, they tend to vote Democrat, said Sanjay Puri, who heads the US India Political Action Committee.

Still Democrats don’t have a stronghold on Indian-Americans.

“Indian Americans as a community tend to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” said Puri. As their numbers grow in conservative states, Indian-Americans could shift right—in Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, the number of Indian-Americans has grown by 80% in the last decade, according to his group.

Puri and Narasimhan say that Democrats have done a better job of courting Indian-Americans, but Republicans have also been open to the group. On the second day of the Republican National Convention, Harmeet Dhillon, vice-chairwoman of the California GOP, delivered a Sikh prayer in Punjabi and English.

Ahuja and Gor both admit they have shifted political allegiances over the years. Gor, who became an American citizen two years ago, said she identifies with many Republican positions, especially on issues like taxes and malpractice insurance.

Ahuja said that he supported Clinton in 2008, but that he started warming towards the Republican nominee Donald Trump last summer when he announced his candidacy. Ahuja, who moved to the US from New Delhi in 1989, likes Trump’s talk on limiting Muslim immigration and deporting immigrants who didn’t come through official channels like he did. Like other Indian-Americans who support Trump, Ahuja believes that Trump will be a better ally for relations between the US and India, and do a better job of combatting terrorism than Clinton.

Puri said that given traditional Indian-American support for Democrats, Indian-American Trump supporters are still generally less vocal than Ahuja about their political views. Still, he estimates that about half of the 12,000 attendees at a Virginia Trump rally earlier this month were Indian-American.

“Even at social parties, I find a lot of people who will quietly tell me they are supporting Trump,” said Puri.