The US presidential election has been rocked by reports that Donald Trump contracted the coronavirus. Trump was in the hospital for three days and was discharged Monday.
What that means for the campaign leading up to the Nov. 3 vote, further debates with Democrat challenger Joe Biden for example, and on the vote itself, remains clouded.
But Trump and Biden, have planted seeds they hope will grow into votes whether the election takes place on the scheduled date or later. And one of the most cultivated segments of the American population is the 4-million-strong Asian Indian community.
Trump says he has Indian American support
Trump critics accuse him of an exaggeration, but has he hit a bulls-eye when he says Americans of Indian heritage will target him for re-election?
It depends on a lot of who’s is doing the talking, who is reporting the stories and whose polls you choose to believe. In the age of Trump, facts can be fickle. They can be, as former Trump aide Kellyann Conway famously said, “alternative facts,” by which you can arrive at alternative truths, where there is more than one truth to the truth.
Take India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for example.
Trump claims he has Modi’s support.
The US president bases that claim on what he called the “Howdy Modi” rally in Houston, Texas, in September 2019, which was attended by an estimated 50,000 members of America’s India immigrant population.
Trump, Modi embrace in Texas
Standing alongside Trump, who he would later physically embrace, Modi said he admired Trump’s “sense of leadership, passion for America, concern for every American and strong resolve to make America great again.”
The latter is Trump’s signature slogan, MAGA – Make America Great Again.
“He has already made the American economy strong again — this was said before the economy was decimated by COVID-19 — Modi said. “He has achieved much for the US and the world. Friends, we in India have connected well with President Trump.”
And then he added the phrase that Trump and many of his base interpreted as support for his Nov. 3 re-election: “In the words of candidate Trump: ‘Abki baar Trump sakar,” which translates from Hindi as, “This time (a) Trump government.”
Trump championed Modi’s words and the rally, calling it a “profoundly historic event” and claimed it amounted to a huge endorsement from Modi.
“We have great support from India, we have great support from Prime Minister Modi, and I would think that the people, the (American) Indian people, would be voting for Trump,” he said in early September, as reported in the Times of India.
The Trump camp produced a video, “Four More Years,” which targeted Indian Americans, the second largest immigrant population after Mexico. It was released at the Republican National Convention in September and features Modi’s so-called endorsement of the president.
In New York, Trump was asked by a reporter if Modi’s words would translate into support for his re-election.
“I do,” Trump replied succinctly.
A September poll by the Indiaspora, a non-profit organization of global Indian diaspora leaders, indicated 66% supported Biden. But Democrat support has slipped – in 2016, 77% voted for Hillary Clinton.
Harris as VP pick could help Democrats
In a move that may translate into votes, Biden fingered Senator Kamala Harris from the state of California, whose mother is an Indian immigrant while her father is a Jamaican immigrant, as his running mate.
That is historic and is likely to sit well with the Indian community.
It is hard to uncover how much money Indian Americans have contributed to Biden or Trump, but based on those who support Biden’s election, it would seem to indicate the Democrat camp is ahead in financial donations.
However, there are indications that Trump is surging.
Another survey, this one by AAPI Data, publishers of research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, found 54% of Asian Americans would vote for Biden and 30% for Trump, with 15% undecided. That’s a 12% drop for Biden.
Again, it is a case of whom you believe. Meanwhile, AAPI reported that a recent survey showed Trump’s popularity among Indian American voters increased to 28% in 2020 from 16% in 2016 to 28% in 2020.
66% still favor Biden
But despite Trump’s gain, the survey found 66% still favor Biden.
It is a case of conflicting findings, muddling the election waters.
Other factors are at play in the Indian American community.
The Indian American community numbers around 4 million and about half are either on an immigration or work visas.
Meanwhile, India politicians have taken a more active role in American politics, led by RSS, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh organization that is an Indian, right-wing, Hindu nationalist, all-male volunteer organization and BJP, the Bharatiya Janata Party, one of two major political parties in India and the ruling one since 2014.
The RSS and BJP are Hindu supremacist organizations that have taken an active political role in the US in the last five years. Both RSS and BJP refuse to condemn brutalities against the Muslim minority in India and have endorsed violent actions against all religious minorities in the country, according to Ummid.
The American arm of BJP, known as the Overseas Friends of BJP, has worked diligently to promote itself and Hindu nationalism in the US through it supports Republican and Democrat candidates sympathetic to the cause.
Ummid said the action is causing dissension in the Indian American communities and since the governing party sides with Islamaphobes, that may translate into votes for Trump who also advocates anti-Muslim sentiments.
12 factors work for Trump
Pundits say there are a dozen factors working in Trump’s favor in the Asian Indian community, according to a Republican survey conducted by the Trump Victory Indian American committee.
Foremost is his support and friendship with Modi and the respect Trump has shown toward Modi, India and Indian Americans. That has increased India’s stature on the global scene.
Those factors working for Trump also include his ignoring India’s controversial internal issues like Kashmir. Modi stripped autonomy from the India-controlled part of Kashmir – while Biden has spoken out against human rights abuses there and urged New Delhi to curb restrictions on dissent. That has caused some defection of support in the Asian Indian population.
The survey also found many in the Asian Indian community believe the Trump-Modi team, at least for the foreseeable future, is the best check against China’s growing dominance on the world stage. It might also deter any aggressive move by China toward India.
The survey also found that in the key battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas, Indian Americans have a large presence and the potential to influence the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor.
The survey pointed to as many as 50% traditionally Democrat supporters will defect and vote for Trump.
“This mass defection could add tens of thousands of new Trump voters in key battleground states and could very well end up helping to secure the president’s re-election,” the report concluded.
As Nov. 3 nears amid uncertainty, so does the question of which candidate will reap the support of the Indian American community.
• 4 million — the number of people of Asian Indian origin living in the US in 2016, according to AAPI Data
• 16% — the number of Indian Americans and American Hindus who voted for Trump in 2016; 77% of Indian Americans for Clinton
• 1.3 million – the number of Indian-origin eligible to vote in 2020
• The number of Indian Americans in five key battleground states: Arizona (66,000). Florida (193,000), Georgia (150,000), North Carolina (110,000), Texas (475,000);
• Indian American voters in the other three battleground states that Democrats hope to win by enticing their votes:
• Michigan 125,000, Democrats lost by 10,700 votes in 2016.
– Pennsylvania 156,000, Democrats lost by 43,000 votes;
– Wisconsin 37,000, Democrats lost by 21,000 votes.
• The Indian population in the US rose nearly 50% between 2010 and 2018
• Because of the rapid influx, only 56% were US citizens and therefore eligible to vote.
• Indian Americans are among the most highly educated racial or ethnic groups in the US, with 705 of those aged 25 and older with college degrees, 2.5 times that of the general population
• Indian Americans are generally well-to-do, with annual household income in 2010 at $88,000