October 22, 2020
The signals surfacing over the last few years have been enough to raise eyebrows. The Republican Party is featuring India Prime Minister Narendra Modi in its ads targeting Indian American voters, while the Democrats are hoping vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris’s half-Indian ancestry will excite South Asian voters — at the same time, some speculate that her criticism of India’s policies under Modi might backfire against the Democratic Party. Progressives are decrying the perceived hypocrisy of Indian Americans leaning to the right in India while settling into their adopted country as reliable Democrats and supporting a candidate on the Democratic ticket whose record on criminal justice is less than ideal. Comparative politics is animating the public understanding of the political behavior of Indian Americans more now than ever before.
The spectacle last September at Houston’s Howdy, Modi! rally was a grand gesture meant to demonstrate that Indian Americans, who represent 80% of South Asian Americans, might defect to the Republican Party. Tens of thousands of diaspora Indians clapped their hands and thumped their feet for President Donald Trump and Modi. Trump won a standing ovation for denouncing “radical Islamic terrorism” and said he would curb “illegal immigration.” And Modi spoke some choice words — “Ab ki bar, Trump Sarkar” (this time, a Trump government) — in a charged political environment that also featured thousands of protestors outside the stadium.
But a recent nationally representative online survey on the political attitudes of Indian Americans — a joint effort from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Endowment Center for Peace, and Johns Hopkins-SAIS in partnership with the data analytics and research firm YouGov — undercuts the rhetoric and political theatrics with data. The Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS) of 936 Indian American U.S. citizens, conducted between September 1 and September 20, 2020, includes key findings that debunk these perceptions.