- Co-authored by political scientists Sara Sadhwani and Maneesh Arora, data reveals that despite perception to the contrary, there are shared political, economic and cultural interests between the two communities.
Despite the growing majoritarianism and political polarization in India, the Indian American community is much more harmonious. There is a “commonality” between Indian Americans of different religions, especially Hindus and Muslims, with shared political, economic and cultural interests.
These are some of the key findings of a new survey by political scientists Sara Sadhwani, assistant professor of politics at Pomona College in Claremont, California, and Maneesh Arora, assistant professor of political science at Wellesley College in Dover, Delaware.
Titled the ‘Indian American Election Survey,’ the authors touch on a broad area of topics covering both U.S. and well as Indian politics and issues concerning the community. The authors told American Kahani that the findings help gauge the political leanings and overview of Indian Americans, the second largest Asian American subgroup in the U.S.
Conducted in October, weeks before the Nov. 3 election, the survey includes responses from 1,003 Indians living in the U.S., including Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other religious backgrounds, as well as both native born and foreign born across a range of arrival years.
“A lot of attention has been given to the perceived large differences between Hindus and Muslims, both in India and here,” Arora said. However, the findings suggest “no real, meaningful differences between Indian American Hindus and Muslims,” Arora said. These two communities “share a cultural bond,” and “the narrative of conflicts we hear didn’t seem to play out in the political context,” he said.
“Although the divisions within the Indian American community are real,” Sadhwani said they did not see it during the course of their survey. Respondents included 57 percent Hindus, 14 percent Christians and 9 percent Muslims and 9 percent with no affiliation, along with other religions.
The commonality is evident in the voting patterns as well.
Data from the survey reveals that 35 percent of Indian Americans overwhelmingly favored Sen. Kamala Devi Harris, while 43 percent somewhat favored her. That’s whopping 78 percent. Their support for former Vice President Joe Biden was high as well, with 31 percent choosing ‘very favorable,’ while 50 percent choosing ‘somewhat favorable.’ A large number of Indian Americans aligned with the Democratic party and supported them, not just for the highest office, but down the ballot as well. Fifty-three percent of Indian Americans are Democrats, while 23 percent are Independent and 19 percent are Republicans.
In the presidential election, 54 percent Indian Americans supported Biden; 18 percent supported Trump; while 12 percent were undecided and 14 percent said they won’t be voting, according to the survey.
There is strong support and pride for Sen. Harris. As the first African American and first Indian American woman candidate for vice president has given hope to the community as well. Now they want to see more representation in politics and say they will support candidates running for office regardless of party affiliation.
According to Sadhwani, one of the most important findings of the survey is the kind of representation Indian Americans seek. “There a strong desire for Indian Americans to take leadership roles,” Sadhwani said. Almost 59 percent of respondents said they would help elect an Indian American candidate regardless of party affiliation.
Arora pointed out that the support extends beyond Indian American or South Asian American candidates to include other Asian ethnicities. “So what we saw is support for a pan Asian ethnic identity of coalition,” he said.
The broad support for Harris was helpful in answering questions regarding her ethnicity and biracial upbringing, Sadhwani said. Questions like “how Indian is she,” and “how aligned with the community she is,” were answered, she said. “Despite this narrative, our findings suggest that by accepting Harris, the community is acknowledging that Harris is one of our own.”
However, Arora warned that despite Indian Americans overwhelmingly supporting Democrats in the November election, it does not leave the party off the hook. “The have to mobilize, like we are seeing right now in the Georgia Senate runoffs.” In Georgia, Asian American voters have been among the many key demographic teams that helped ship the state for Biden. They have also been galvanizing for Georgia’s two Senate runoff elections to be held on Jan. 5, 2021, which can determine the majority of the Senate.
The support for India-related issues was again generational, the authors found out. Indian Americans’ investment in home country politics impacts the choices they make in the U.S., the survey found out. Indian immigrants who arrived in the U.S. prior to 1970 (75 percent) and from 1980 to 2009 favored President Donald Trump. Seventy-one percent of those who arrived in the U.S. between 1980-1989 supported Trump; while the support for Trump among those who immigrated here between 1990 and 1999 was 68 percent. And for recent arrivals, between 2000 and 2009, 48 percent supported Trump.
The survey also found a correlation between support for Prime Minister Modi and that for President Trump. Among those surveyed, 14 percent chose Trump as ‘very favorable’, and 28 percent chose Modi in the same category.
While Indian American Republicans were more supportive of India’s Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA (33 percent Republicans compared to 21 percent Democrats), there was also a great deal of support for it from those born in the U.S. as well. Twenty-two percent of those born in India and in the U.S. equally supported the CAA.
However, the findings differed on the issue revoking of Article 370, which granted significant autonomy to Kashmir. Only 16 percent of those born in the U.S. supported the move by the Government of India, compared to 26 percent of those born outside the U.S. In terms of party affiliation, 31 percent Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats supported it. As regards to immigration, 38 percent Democrats opposed Trump’s policies on H-1B visas, while only 13 percent Republicans and 28 percent Independents opposed it.
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.