Indian Americans are Divided Over Trajectory of Indian Democracy, But are Largely Supportive of Modi: Survey
- A new study published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reveals the attitudes of Indian Americans on India and U.S.-India relations.
Indian Americans hold mixed opinions on the present trajectory of Indian democracy, with a majority of them especially concerned about the challenges government corruption and slowing economic growth pose to the country’s future. While a bare majority appear largely supportive of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government, a significant minority is not. While Indian Americans tend to have more conservative opinions on policy issues in India than on those in the United States, they are less pro-Modi compared to Indians living in India and less conservative in their views.
These are the key findings of the Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS), conducted by political scientists Milan Vaishnav, Devesh Kapur and Sumitra Badrinathan and published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Vaishnav, a senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is the author of “When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics,” and hosts a weekly Carnegie podcast on Indian politics and policy. Kapur is the Starr Foundation Professor of South Asian Studies and director of Asia Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and is the author of several books. Badrinathan is an advanced PhD student in political science at the University of Pennsylvania.She studies misinformation, media effects, and political behavior and employs survey and experimental methods in her work.
The analysis is based on a nationally representative online survey of 1,200 Indian American adult residents, conducted between Sept. 1 and Sept. 20, 2020, in partnership with the research and analytics firm YouGov. The survey has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent.
Citing data from the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS), conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the authors note that Indian Americans are now the second-largest immigrant group in the U.S. “Although a large proportion of Indian Americans are not U.S. citizens (38 percent), roughly 2.6 million are U.S. citizens (1.4 million are naturalized citizens and 1.2 million were born in the U.S).”
Their growing political influence and the role the diaspora plays in Indian foreign policy therefore raises important questions, the authors say, “about how Indian Americans view India, the political changes underway there, and the course of U.S.-India relations.”
Reasons for Survey
One of the reasons for conducting the survey, authors say is the “high-octane gatherings” held in the U.S. for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “In September 2019, approximately 50,000 cheering members of the Indian diaspora packed into NRG Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Houston Texans, to hear a rare address from a foreign leader on U.S. soil,” the authors say. Earlier in 2014, Modi attracted 18,000 Indian Americans to New York City’s Madison Square Garden “in a gathering that more closely resembled a post-election victory party,” the authors say. However, they note that the “2019 event in Houston was exceptional in a singular way.”
According to the authors, “while Modi’s New York celebration mobilized dozens of members of Congress, a governor, and a handful of senators to appear alongside him, Modi’s Texas event caught the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, who co-headlined the event.”
These events also highlighted the divisions in the Indian American community, the authors say. “Despite the large number of supporters at the two events, outside these venues there were also small groups of protesters, reflecting the political divisions in India within the Indian American community.”
Along with its optics, these “massive rallies signaled the political coming-of-age of an Indian diaspora in the United States,” the authors say. “They also reflected the burgeoning U.S.-India partnership, which has enjoyed steady progress since the turn of the twenty-first century and has touched on areas as diverse as climate change, defense, and space exploration.”
Although the diaspora began gaining notice under Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in the early 2000s, authors say “the gatherings signified the particular importance that the Modi government has placed on the Indian diaspora as a force multiplier of India’s foreign policy.”
They believe that “the attention showered on the diaspora also raises important, unanswered questions about how exactly Indians in America view their country of origin, the political changes underway in their homeland, and the trajectory of Indian democracy. Empirically speaking, relatively little is known about Indian Americans’ attitudes toward India largely due to a lack of systematic data collection.” They note that the data collected from this survey can close that gap and help characterize the views of Indian Americans toward India.
Connections to India
The survey shows that Indian Americans, by and large, remain deeply connected to their homeland. “But the intensity of this connection and the precise channels through which it operates vary greatly across the Indian American population.” They also enjoy diverse connections to India, with one in two of them feeling personally connected to India. “This connection — strongest among members of the community born outside of the United States —manifests itself through personal, cultural, and political links.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the most popular political party among Indian Americans, the survey reveals. One-third of respondents favor the ruling BJP while just 12 percent identify with the Congress Party. However, two in five Indian Americans do not identify with an Indian political party — suggesting an arms-length relationship to everyday politics in India.
Indian Americans hold broadly favorable views of Modi. Nearly half of all Indian Americans approve of Modi’s performance as prime minister. This support is greatest among Republicans, Hindus, people in the engineering profession, those not born in the United States, and those who hail from North and West India.
When it comes to issues affecting the U.S., Indian Americans are more liberal on their policy views and more conservative on issues affecting India, the survey revealed. Regarding contentious issues such as the equal protection of religious minorities, immigration, and affirmative action, Indian Americans hold relatively more conservative views of Indian policies than of U.S. policies.
On foreign policy, Indian Americans endorse efforts to deepen ties between Washington and New Delhi and share broadly negative views of China. However, they are more split on how far the two countries should go in confronting China.They are broadly supportive of the U.S.-India relationship. “A plurality of Indian Americans believes that current levels of U.S. support for India are adequate, while a large majority hold unfavorable opinions of China,” the survey reveals.
However, Indian Americans are divided about U.S. efforts to strengthen India’s military as a check against China. Foreign-born Indian Americans and those who identify as Republicans are more supportive of U.S. efforts to support India militarily than their U.S.-born and Democratic counterparts.
They heavily rely on online sources for news about India. Fifty-four percent of respondents report using online sources to follow news about India. YouTube, Facebook, and WhatsApp are among their most popular social media platforms. Although Indian Americans heavily rely on social media, they do not view it as particularly trustworthy relative to traditional news sources.
Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.