Kamala Harris has had a galvanizing effect on Indian-American voters — but she’s not the only reason they support the Democratic ticket.
CHICAGO — A large majority of Indian-Americans plan to cast ballots for the Democratic ticket of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Kamala Harris, according to a survey released Wednesday, despite elaborate overtures by the Trump White House to win their support.
The survey, by the polling firm YouGov, found that 72 percent of Indian-American voters planned to vote for Mr. Biden, with just 22 percent planning to go for President Trump.
While Indian-Americans hold a wide variety of political views, the presence on the Democratic ticket of Ms. Harris, whose mother immigrated from Chennai, India, has had a galvanizing effect on a voting bloc that could help Mr. Biden in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan.
Their potential impact on the presidential election highlights the growing importance of Indian-Americans in U.S. politics: As the second-largest immigrant group in the country, Indian-Americans are gaining influence, making political donations, vocally supporting candidates and causes and, most notably, running for office, from the school board to Congress.
Mr. Kapur, 72, who owns a gas processing and distributing company in Medford, Mass., and supported Ms. Harris’s 2016 Senate race and her run for the 2020 presidential nomination, said that Indian-Americans donated $3.3 million to the Biden Victory Fund at a single fund-raising event in September.
But Ms. Harris isn’t the only reason many Indian-Americans support the Democratic ticket this year, Mr. Kapur said. They are also turned off by the president’s frequent attacks on immigrants and people of color, despite standing to gain from Mr. Trump’s economic policies.
While the approximately two million Indian-American voters make up less than 1 percent of the electorate, they are voters whom both parties seek to attract. The larger Indian-American population is twice as rich as the rest of the country as a whole, and two times as likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
And at the rate the community is growing — doubling in size every decade since the 1980s — they represent an increasingly formidable force in U.S. politics.
The apparently wide support among Indian-Americans for Mr. Biden comes despite high-profile efforts by Mr. Trump and the Republicans to win their votes.
A year ago, Mr. Trump drew 50,000 people to a rally in Houston with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, an event that organizers called “Howdy, Modi.” The prime minister, a right-wing populist whose bellicose views on two of India’s rivals, Pakistan and China, helped win his party a landslide re-election in 2019, and who has generally received support from the Indian diaspora, lauded Mr. Trump’s name as “familiar to every person on the planet.” He returned the favor in February with an even larger spectacle for Mr. Trump in India.
The rallies did win Mr. Trump some support, said M.R. Rangaswami, the founder of Indiaspora, a nonpartisan group that promotes the interests of Indians in the United States.
“Trump has invested in India, has invested in Indian-Americans with the ‘Howdy, Modi’ visit and with going to India, and it has shown results,” Mr. Rangaswami said. “The question is: Will it outweigh the Kamala factor?”
Indeed, the survey reported that 45 percent of respondents said that Ms. Harris’s nomination had made them more likely to vote, and 49 percent said they were more enthusiastic about supporting Mr. Biden. It also showed that respondents cared more about health care, the economy and the environment than U.S.-India relations.
YouGov conducted the survey as part of a research project by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Trump has also lost some favor in India, where the news media criticized him for casting doubt on the integrity of Indian government coronavirus statistics during the presidential debate last month.
Mr. Rangaswami, who attended the Houston rally and is registered as an independent, said the audience appeared to consist largely of older Indian-Americans, who he said leaned conservative and most likely voted for Mr. Trump in 2016.
That Indian-American voters lean liberal over all is partly because a younger generation, born in the United States, is far less convinced by the conservative cultural mores brought by their parents and grandparents from India, Mr. Rangaswami said.
“There’s definitely that schism in the Indian-American community,” said Raj Bhutoria, 20, a junior at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., who has dreamed of running for office since working as a volunteer on the successful 2016 campaign of Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California and an Indian-American.
Mr. Khanna’s victory and Ms. Harris’s nomination show that “now being Indian is no longer a barrier to run for office or get elected,” Mr. Bhutoria said.
Despite wishing that the Democratic nominees were more progressive on some issues, Mr. Bhutoria said he was supporting them — though with perhaps less gusto than his parents, Ajay and Vinita Bhutoria, Bay Area tech entrepreneurs in their 40s who, as avowed liberals, are somewhat of an exception for their generation. They have starred in three ads supporting the Biden-Harris campaign, set to Bollywood music and featuring slogans in a variety of Indian languages.
Mr. Bhutoria cited Mr. Trump’s trade disputes with India, pressure on countries not to trade with Iran — an important source of cheap oil for India — and the suspension of H-1B visas for high-skilled workers, a large number of which go to Indians.
“The ‘Howdy, Modi’ event was wonderful to look at, but they were only beautiful picture moments,” he said. “Trump has not done much for India or Indians-Americans.”