By Meenakshi Iyer
New Delhi, Aug 20 (IANS) Comprising nearly 1 percent of all registered voters in the United States, Indian-Americans have become a potent political force, not just due to their growing numbers — around four million — but also because of their growing influence as well as affluence.
Often considered to be key players in the battleground or swing states, the impact of Indian-Americans was evident on the ballot box as they turned up in huge numbers to vote in the tightly-contested November 2020 presidential race.
The Republicans and the Democrats left no stone unturned to woo the community — from introducing Indian-origin Kamala Devi Harris as running mate to walking hand-in-hand with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 2019 ‘Howdy Modi’ event.
During the 2020 Democratic primary, candidates across the board received substantial financial backing from Indian-Americans.
In September, Indian-Americans raised a record high of $3.3 million for the Joe Biden campaign in one night. And over the weekend, an event for Harris was estimated to have raised at least another $2 million to $3 million, a Quartz report said.
At 71 per cent, Indian-Americans reported the highest rate of voting among the Asian American communities in the 2020 race, a nine percentage point increase over 2016, according to the US Current Population Survey data.
Some 1.3 million Indian-Americans voted in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin — the states with no clear allegiances or leanings towards either of the two major parties in the US.
“In select swing states, the Indian-American population is larger than the margin of victory that separated Hillary Clinton and Trump in the closely contested 2016 presidential race,” said Sumitra Badrinathan from the University of Pennsylvania.
The Indian-American community has historically supported the Democrats in presidential elections with exit polls from 2016 indicating that four out of five (79 per cent) Asian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, while only 18 per cent voted for Donald Trump.
A YouGov poll found that 72 per cent of registered Indian-American voters backed Biden in 2020, 77 per cent voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 84 per cent for Barack Obama in 2012.
Results from Carnegie’s 2020 Indian-American Attitudes Survey said that a large section of the community views the Republican Party as unwelcoming.
“Indian-Americans refrain from identifying with the Republican Party due, in part, to a perception that the party is intolerant of minorities and overly influenced by Christian evangelicalism,” the Carnegie study said.
However, in the looming 2024 elections, Indian-American voters are likely face a tough call with candidates from their community jumping into the electoral fray.
While Democrat Harris leads the pack as Biden’s running mate, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley and Hirsh Vardhan Singh have thrown their hats from the Republican side. Scientist and entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai has announced his bid as an independent candidate.
“A majority of Indian Americans have a deep desire to see more Indian-Americans elected to office,” Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics in Pomona College, said in a media report.
According to the Carnegie study, Indian-Americans share common political, cultural and economic interests. More than 60 per cent from the community said they would feel better represented if Indian-Americans were elected to office.
In addition, more than half said they would support an Indian-American running for office regardless of their party affiliation.
Going by this calculation, all eyes are now set on the GOP Primary, scheduled for July 15-18, 2024, in Milwaukee, where the official presidential nominee will be formally selected, and which will inturn decide where the Indian-American votes will swing.
Despite facing legal hurdles, former US President Donald Trump is perceived as the front-runner. The other notable Republican candidates who are giving fellow Indian-Americans a tough fight are Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence and Tim Scott.
As for the Democrats, a vote for Biden is a vote for ‘President’ Kamala Harris, according to Republican presidential nominee Nikki Haley.
Meanwhile, with the Democrats wooing Modi of late by inviting him to a state visit and sending a delegation led by an Indian-American Democrat Ro Khanna, says much about the clout the leader still has on the community.
According to a Time report, “The Indian-American community’s political weight has not been lost on Modi, who has leveraged its influence time and again.”