A recent survey of Asian-American voters showed strong support among Indian-origin voters for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Of those surveyed, 65 per cent Indian-Americans said that they would vote for Biden over Donald Trump. Moreover, 72 per cent of Indian-Americans said they had a favourable opinion of Biden, while only 36 per cent viewed President Trump positively. What do these numbers tell us about the voting preferences of Indian-Americans?
There are about 1.8 million India-Americans who are eligible to vote in the US, and many are located in hotly contested states such as Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. While the survey results are heartening for the Democratic Party, they also show a slight downward trend in Indian-American support for Democratic candidates. In 2016, post-election surveys had shown that 84 per cent of Indian-origin residents voted for Hillary Clinton. In 2012, about 84 per cent had voted for Barack Obama.
These shifts are partly driven by Donald Trump’s assiduous attempts to court the Indian vote. Last year, at the ‘Howdy Modi!’ rally in Houston, he declared that he is proud to have Indian immigrants “as Americans”. Then came his visit to India in February 2020, which was full of grand optics. President Trump also sends periodic tweets and statements about his love for India, and his campaign emphasises Trump’s supposed rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But, if we unpack actual policy priorities and decisions, we find that the Trump administration has come up short. A Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration has the experience and the vision to do better.
Indian-Americans will be better off under Biden-Harris
Let us consider the domestic issues that are of high priority to Indian-Americans: jobs and healthcare. This is consistent with the concerns of American voters in general. Due to the pandemic, unemployment in the US has reached historic rates. It is clear that the economy cannot do well without tackling the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the Trump administration has simply abdicated responsibility, with catastrophic results for the country. It is no surprise, then, that a majority of Indian-Americans trust a Biden-led administration to deliver on an actual plan to address both crises.
Immigration policy is of significant interest to Indian-Americans. Here, too, Indians place more trust in a Biden-Harris administration – with good reason. There are almost four million persons of Indian origin in the United States. Many Indians came to the US relatively recently — over 60 per cent having arrived after 2000. Work, education and family sponsorships have been the main pathways for Indian immigrants. President Trump claims to favour high-skill immigration. During the Republican Party convention in August, for example, Donald Trump hosted a citizenship oath-taking ceremony at the White House, which included a person of Indian origin. At the same Convention, former Trump cabinet member, Nikki Haley, discussed her Indian-American roots.
But, the Trump administration’s actual policies have been anything but welcoming. His policies are marked by racist hostility towards non-White immigrants. The last few years have been marked by abrupt and unclear rule changes, which creates hardships for Indian students, workers, and families. If President Trump is re-elected, the immigration hardliners in his administration will have a mandate to clamp down on legal immigration pathways. Immigration policy has long been a complex and difficult issue in the US. Still, during its tenure, the Obama-Biden administration was able to introduce streamlined reforms. And, the Biden-Harris team offers a platform that will be both systematic and rational towards aspiring immigrants, while also being fair to American workers.
Trump doesn’t benefit India either
What of India-US relations? Even though Trump touts his friendship with PM Modi, his administration has delivered precious little of value to India. He abdicated the US’ stabilising role in Asia-Pacific, which emboldened China. India has not been served well by this. In contrast, Biden has proposed a comprehensive and strategic plan to limit China’s influence; and India will be an important ally in those efforts.
Trade has always been a tricky issue for the two countries; but, during the Obama-Biden years, the two countries made progress on numerous trade issues, including intellectual property, technology and investment. In contrast, Trump has railed about the US-India trade deficit and imposed tariffs on Indian products. He promised a trade deal with India; but none has materialised. Even more worryingly, the Trump administration has squandered the work that the Obama-Biden administration did on clean energy and climate change cooperation with India. The Biden-Harris agenda has promised a renewed focus on clean energy, which should also boost cooperation between the two countries.
Finally, representation matters. The Biden team reflects the diversity of the United States, including Indian-Americans. Kamala Harris’ mother, Dr. Shyamalan Gopalan, was an early immigrant to the US, and her journey serves as an inspiration to others. Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former US Surgeon-General, is Biden’s adviser on coronavirus and has spoken movingly about Biden’s meeting with his grandmother. Overall, the Biden platform is committed to more inclusivity. In contrast, the Trump administration is conspicuously and almost exclusively White.
As the Indian-American community has grown in the US in size and influence, it has come to assert a range of political viewpoints. The shifts in the AAPI survey reflect these changes, as do the efforts of both campaigns to reach out to Indian voters. President Trump, ever the salesman, is great at holding massive rallies, sending out tweets, and staging politically convenient photo-ops. His actions however, demonstrate that he does not, in fact, welcome Indians to the “great American family”. A Biden-Harris administration offers actual policy solutions to the issues that matter to Indian-Americans.
The author is a Professor of Political Science at Western Washington University, US. She has published and spoken extensively on diaspora issues, including the Trump administration’s immigration policy towards Indians. Her book, Indian Immigrant Women and Work: The American Experience, was published in 2016. Her twitter handle is @Bee_the_Wonk. Views are personal.
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