Neither Kamala Harris nor the Modi-Trump bonhomie holds much sway over the Indian-American vote

Holding hands to the ballot box.
Holding hands to the ballot box.
Image: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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The Indian-American community has become a talking point in the US presidential election, despite its meager numbers.

Traditionally voters of the Democratic camp, the prevalent narrative is that a blossoming camaraderie between president Donald Trump and prime minister Narendra Modi would lead to a widespread defection of Indian Americans—less than 2% of the American population—towards the Republican party.

But 72% of Indian-American voters said they would vote for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, according to the findings in a new paper by political scientists Sumitra Badrinathan, Devesh Kapur, and Milan Vaishnav.

While their absolute numbers may be low, the Indian-American community is a significant voting bloc because of the funds it raised for the Democratic primaries, and the economic influence it wields. Vaishnav, for instance, noted that the average American Indian household income is over $100,000 (Rs75 lakh), compared to the American average of $50,000.

“The big takeaway from these numbers is that there is scant evidence in the survey for the widespread defection of Democratic voters toward Trump—contrary to popular narratives that have surfaced in the media,” the paper noted.

These numbers hold across gender, income, religion, and education differences.

The Narendra Modi factor

Voters across the political spectrum look at Modi “warmly” on the “feelings thermometer.” This measure asks respondents to rate their feeling between 0 and 100, and Modi scores over 50 even with the lowest warmth among Biden supporters.

The “warmth” for Modi exists despite the fact that a majority of Indian Americans surveyed identify with the liberal spectrum of political ideology.

But on the whole, the issues at hand—economy, healthcare, racism—influence Indian Americans more than India’s relationship with the US. In fact, India-US relations are among the least of the community’s voting priorities.

The Kamala Harris factor

Much has also been said about the choice of senator Kamala Harris as Biden’s vice-presidential pick. Harris’s part-Indian roots have been perceived as the Democratic party’s move to counter the Modi-Trump equation. Her candidacy has a small effect on voter turnout, where 45% of Indian Americans have said that they are more likely to go out and vote because of her.

This voter mobilisation, according to the paper, is largely in favour of the Democratic party.