Indian Americans, who are traditionally Democrats, were stunned by the outcome of the general elections in the United States, where Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton in the race to the White House on November 8th, 2016.
Democrats and Republicans had intensified their campaigns in the community for their presidential candidates on the eve of Tuesday’s monumental elections. Democrats took a broader approach reaching out to all South Asians over the weekend, while Republicans focused on Hindus.
A national online survey of Indian-Americans reveals that a whopping 79.43% of them would vote for Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, while 14.89% would vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump. Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson received 1.42% support from Indian-Americans. The survey was conducted during Oct. 21-26 after the third and final presidential debate.
The opinion poll, which was piloted by IndUS Business Journal and its sister publication INDIA New England News, also revealed that 46.43% of Indian-Americans are registered as Independents, while 38.57% are Democrats, and only 5% are registered as Republicans.
“The biggest surprise was that nearly half of the Indian-Americans are registered as Independents,” said Upendra Mishra, publisher of IndUS Business Journal and INDIA New England News. “The general assumption among Non-Resident Indians is that a vast majority of Indian-Americans are registered as Democrats.” Mishra said that despite an intense campaign by a small Hindu minority to support Trump, the campaign by the Republican Hindu Coalition has fallen on deaf ears.
“A vast majority of the NRI community in the United States is open-minded and beyond the pettiness of caste and religion,” Mishra said. “The strength in diversity and openness is one of the greatest strengths of NRIs in the United States and worldwide.”
Republicans have been trying to break into the Democratic Party base, with a campaign targeting Hindus. Last month Trump addressed a charity event organized by Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC) that drew about 8,000 people in New Jersey. He vowed at the event to be a friend of Hindus and Indians.
Clinton has not made a similar direct appeal to Indian Americans given the wide margin of their historic support. Her Indian American and South Asian supporters have instead concentrated on mobilizing fellow Democrats to go out and vote, especially those living in key battleground states to her victory.
Both sides waged a battle on community televisions and on the digital media. Democrats ran a phone bank with volunteers calling up South Asians in the key states, urging them to vote for Clinton. The RHC blanketed voters thought to be Hindus with printed campaign material.
Amit Jani of South Asians for Hillary (SAHILL) told the media that about 200 volunteers were out over the weekend knocking on doors of South Asians and making phone calls to them to vote for Clinton, concentrating on the battleground states. The group prepared a list of South Asians by going through the master voters’ rolls to
help them campaign, he said. The Democratic Party commercials, on the other hand, focused on the future generations of South Asians and Indian Americans, according to Varun Nikore, the vice chair of the Asian American Pacific Islander Victory Fund (AAPIVF), which backs Clinton.
RHC sent out printed campaign material accusing Clinton of being “Best friend of Pakistan, China and Radical Islamic Terrorists” and of advocating an immigration policy that will make Indians “wait 50 years” for Green Cards. Focusing on Indian businesspeople and doctors, the RHC said that Clinton was “pro-labour” and will extend President Barack Obama’s health care program to force all medical professionals to work for the government.
It said that Trump is a friend of Hindus and was inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and would increase trade with India at the expense of China and enable Indians to get more Green Cards.
Some of these themes played out on the RHC TV advertisements, which also alleged that Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, whose mother is a Pakistani, would influence Clinton’s foreign policy. The Republican Hindu Coalition released a new ad Nov. 2, attacking Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, for her Pakistani heritage.
The 30-second television spot, which is running on several Indian American television stations, including Zee TV, TV Asia, Times Now and Star TV, amongst other outlets, begins with an attack on Clinton for her alleged ties to Pakistan. The ad notes that the candidate has given “billions of dollars” and military equipment to
Pakistan, “to be used against India.” The spot also notes that Clinton “was instrumental” in blocking a U.S. visa for Narendra Modi for several years, until he became prime minister of India. The RHC spot also alleged that former U.S. President Bill Clinton supports “giving Kashmir to Pakistan.”
With the race for the White House tightening, Indian-American Democrats are making a push to get their community to turn out to vote for Hillary Clinton, saying she’s been a steadfast friend of Indians and India.
Leaders of “Indian Americans for Democrats and Friends of Hillary for President” appealed in particular to Indians living in states expected to play a key role in the presidential elections next week saying that despite its small size the community’s votes could have an outsize effect in a tight race.
Bhupi Patel, a community leader, spoke of the influence Indians steadily have built up in US politics and their impact on India-US relations. He recalled Indian American Center for Political Awareness founded by the late newspaper pioneer Gopal Raju and how it encouraged Indians to get involved in politics and helped India and the US develop closer ties.
Patel said that Clinton’s agenda for health care, immigration reform and improving the quality of and access to education meshed in with that of Indian Americans for whom these were crucial issues.