Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS) test desis’ mood in 2020 presidential election

Ritu Jha-


Milan Vaishnav, Director, and Senior Fellow, South Asia Program, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says, he was surprised how little U.S.-India relations figured in the minds of voters when it comes to determining their vote choice.


Vaishnav, one of the co-authors of the survey, released on Oct. 14, “How Will Indian Americans Vote? Results From the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey(IAAS)” along with Prof. Sumitra Badrinathan, University of Pennsylvania and Devesh Kapur, Johns Hopkins-SAIS.


The survey, a collaboration between the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins-SAIS, and the University of Pennsylvania, covered 936 Indian Americans. Its primary objective is to shed light on political activities relevant to the 2020 presidential election.


Sharing his thoughts about the research with indica News, Vaishnav said, “The media narrative suggests that Indian Americans are moving away from the Democratic Party because they think Trump will do a better job managing U.S.-India relations. We just do not find any evidence of this.”


Indian Americans do not consider U.S.-India relations to be one of the principal determinants of their vote choice in this election. The economy and healthcare are the two most important issues influencing the vote choice of Indian Americans.


The survey states a narrative is emerging that the apparent courtship between U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, compounded by concerns over how a Biden administration might manage U.S.-India ties, will push Indian Americans to abandon the Democratic Party in droves.


This study finds no empirical evidence to support either of these claims. The analysis is based on a nationally representative online survey of 936 Indian American citizens—the Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS)—conducted between September 1 and September 20, 2020, in partnership with the research and analytics firm YouGov. The survey has an overall margin of error of +/- 3.2 percent.


The survey found 72 percent of registered Indian American voters supported Biden for president compared to 22 percent for Trump. The rest either chose “others” or said they did not intend to vote.


When asked Vaishnav how important is this 22 percent, he said, “The 22 percent is very important because they could swing either way.”


Adding further, he said that historically, they have swung largely in favor of Democrats. 64 percent of them plan to vote for Biden in 2020, compared to just 22 percent for Trump. 25 percent of naturalized citizens are Independents compared to 19 percent of U.S.-born citizens.


The survey shows not just the percentage but who are these people but also the vote choice based on when they migrated to the U.S.


It shows 70 percent of the naturalized citizens who have lived in the U.S between eleven and twenty-five years are the most likely to support Biden, whereas 28 percent of Trump supporters is greater among those who have lived in the United States for less than a decade or new immigrants.


Between 2000 and 2018, the Indian American population grew by nearly 150 percent, making it the second-largest immigrant group in America today. The authors of the survey stated in the report that the rising political profile of Indian Americans, their political attitudes are woefully understudied.


Vaishnav told indica News, that the findings signify that, in some ways, Indian American voters behave much like all American voters: they prioritize everyday, domestic concerns over foreign policy, and they are growing deeply polarized internally. But if the Republican Party continues to push anti-immigration or protectionist policies, it is going to drive Indian Americans further into the arms of the Democrats.


The survey shows that Indians of all religious faiths prefer Biden to Trump. The survey shows that 82 percent of Muslims support Biden considerably higher than Hindu support which is 67 percent.


It also shows there is no linear relationship between age and vote choice. Seventy-five percent of voters between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine intend to vote for Biden; this proportion declines to 64 percent for ages thirty to forty-nine before rising again to 69 percent for those above the age of fifty. Age-wise, support for Trump essentially presents the mirror image.


The survey also talks about the Democratic running mate Kamala Harris and her influence on the Indian American voters.


Biden’s selection of Harris as his vice presidential nominee triggered widespread speculation as to whether Harris’s addition to the ticket would be a net positive, net negative, or simply have no impact on the voting behavior of Indian Americans. Though the report shows 72 percent would likely vote for Biden, but only 45 percent of respondents indicated that Harris’s selection made them more likely to vote in November and another 40 percent said it made no difference either way.


The survey also shows that 20 percent of Indian Americans consider her Black.


When asked Vaishnav, what does it signify? She has launched so many Indian American focused campaign? Is it too late now, he said, “Not at all. We find that the Harris pick has mobilized the Indian American community in a big way, and largely in support of the Biden campaign. When we asked respondents why the most common answer was that they were excited about her Indian American heritage.”


However, the survey shows that some news reports suggested that the Indian American community enthusiastically embraced her selection, while others hinted at rifts within the community due to Harris’ previous positions on Indian domestic policy as well as her downplaying of her Indian identity relative to her Black identity.