The conventional thinking has been that the Republicans are good for India as opposed to the Democrats and the Indian American community is seen to have predominantly supported the Democrats over the years. That said, statistics have also shown that the Grand Old Party has been successful in weaning away the community from backing the Democrats. There is no doubt in the fact that the Indian Americans have come a very long way in making their presence known in American politics not only successfully knocking at the doors of Capitol Hill but in making headway in state races as well. Democrats and Republicans have been making their outreach pitch to this fastest-growing immigrant group, numbering close to four million with an estimated 1.8 million eligible voters.
When the former vice-president Joseph Biden picked Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, he chose not only an African American but also an Indian American by virtue of the Senator’s mother who hailed from Chennai, India. Whether this choice would have gone down well among all sections of African Americans is a different story, but her choice was a matter of deep satisfaction within the Indian American community and for some reason even in India. But the question that the Biden campaign has to keep in mind is if the voting Indian American community would turn out in record numbers for the Democratic ticket, especially in the critical battleground states of Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina where they are in good numbers and especially when 2000 and 2016 elections showed how a handful of votes could make all the difference.
In fact, there are those analysts who make the point that Indian Americans in states like Georgia and Texas, too, could tip the scales in favour of the Biden-Harris ticket; but, generally, there is a feeling — substantiated by recent surveys — that President Donald Trump and the Republicans are not about to lose their hold in the two southern states. Given the closeness of this year’s contest, the registered among the Indian American community are saying that they are being contacted by the two major parties. According to a news report filed by the agency ANI, the two parties are not too far apart in reaching out to the Indian Americans — 56 per cent by Democrats and 48 per cent for Republicans.
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The issue with Indian Americans voting in this election is not about the profile of the community which is for all to see. It has to do with the shifting parameters of support between Democrats and Republicans. Indian American supporters of both the parties have particularly been buoyed by the choice of Senator Harris as the vice-presidential running mate of Biden; and Trump’s close ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his recent upbeat visit to India. President Trump and his campaign seriously believe that this will tip the scales when it comes to the question of the Indian American vote.
If numbers are anything to go by, the Biden campaign has to realise that while two-thirds of the Indian Americans may be supporting them, statistics are a source of concern. In 2008, it is pointed out, 84 per cent of the Indian Americans backed Barack Obama; in 2016 apparently 77 per cent supported Hillary Clinton; but, today, the support rate for Biden is put at 66 per cent. On the other hand, President Trump’s support among Indian Americans appears to have gone up — from 16 per cent in 2016 to 28 per cent today, according to a report of Indiaspora and Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) data cited in the ANI report. “If the remaining undecided voters broke in the same pattern as those who have made up their mind, Biden would secure 70 per cent of the vote when compared to 30 per cent for Trump”, the report said.
“I think Democrats absolutely should be concerned about making sure that they conduct sufficient outreach to Indian Americans, that they conduct sufficient outreach to the different groups that comprise bases and Indian Americans because every vote is going to count especially in those battleground states,” Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Indian American Democrat Congressman from Illinois has said going on to make the point that Democrats should particularly be more attentive given the stakes in the battleground states.
There are a number of things that are on the agenda of the Indian Americans, and the relations between New Delhi and Washington is only one of them. Immigrants in America, the Indian Americans included, are concerned about the direction of the immigration policies of the administration, Republican or Democratic, especially as it pertains to issuance of Green Cards and the time frame for transition between permanent residency and citizenship. Deportations and the issue of illegals is yet another factor that is of deep concern. It is said that there are more than 6,00,000 undocumented Indians in the United States, many of them classified into this category for overstaying their visas. And the Indian American community is also deeply concerned over education, health care and the economy.
The importance in turnout of powerful immigrant groups is critical in this election; and it goes beyond the number of eligible voters living in swing and battleground states. For one thing, this November 3, 2020, election is fought not on issues but on what President Trump and his campaign have said of what will and will not work for America. And much of this has been on outrageous and unsubstantiated charges and allegations, all of them would have been laughed out of court in normal times. And the stage is being set for more preposterous allegations at the time of the debates, three between the Presidential contenders and one between their running mates. And the President has already set the ball rolling by arguing that Joseph Biden does well in debates only because he is on drugs!
The scary part has nothing to do with Trump’s antics between now and election day. It has very much to do with what he proposes to do if the election goes against him. Some make the point that Biden will have to post a massive win if Trump is to leave the White House, albeit reluctantly. And anything in the neighborhood of a “close” election will make the Florida recount of 2000 look like a high school picnic. The real scenario that respectable people cutting across party lines are worried about is pro-Trump news organisation and right wing news sites declaring him to be the winner even if the actual results are to the contrary and thereby plunging the country into chaos and perhaps even induced violence in the streets. For a person who has long talked about the Democrats rigging elections and egging on people to vote “twice”, Trump’s final game plan will perhaps be known only when networks are getting ready to announce results on the night of November 3.
The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations.