Indian-Americans make up around 1% of the electorate, but their votes may be crucial in swing states.

Collage of Donald Trump on the left against a red background and Joe Biden on the right against a blue background
news US Election 2020 Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 12:50

Indian-origin people are reckoned to be one of the robustly growing immigrant groups in the United States of America — it grew by 38% between 2010 and 2017 — so much that they are touted to make a significant contribution in the 2020 US election on November 3. Although the US Census Bureau does not capture the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP), which breaks down the state-wise registered voters, its estimates on the total population reflect the number of eligible voters among the Indian-Americans (or Asian Indians as the Census Bureau refers them to avoid confusion with native Americans) in each state. Accordingly, California, New York, New Jersey, Texas and Illinois have the largest Indian-American eligible voter populations. 

Who are eligible voters

Among a population of 4.16 million Indian-Americans, per the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) of the US Census Bureau, about 2.62 million are US citizens who are eligible voters. Naturalised citizens (non-citizen acquiring citizenship) and Indians born in the US are considered US citizens. According to estimates, there are 1.4 million naturalised citizens and 1.2 million US-born citizens. Among these, about 1.9 million (less than 1%) are estimated to eligible voters. 

It is estimated that every year, about 1.5 lakh Indian-Americans are eligible to vote, with a majority of them being US-born children of immigrants, who reach the eligible age to vote, that is, 18 years. Non-citizens in the US are required to have lived in the country for at least five consecutive years and three years for spouses of US citizens before applying for naturalisation. 

States with high Indian-American voters

Considered one of the most educated and influential people among the immigrants, Indians form the second-largest immigrant groups in the US after Mexicans. Among the states with a high population of Indian-Americans, California has always reserved the top spot. States like New York, New Jersey, Texas and Illinois figure among the top five states with varying Indian-American population size. 

According to the 2018-2019 estimates by the US Census Bureau (the government agency that generates data on American people and economy), California has a population of 8,16,536 Indian-American voters. This is followed by Texas (4,83,245), New Jersey (3,84,988), New York (3,72,908) and Illinois (2,42,823).

The high population in these states reflects the high Indian-American voter population or the Indian voting base in the US. 

Among the cities with high Indian-Americans, San Jose in California, which is technology hub Silicon Valley’s third-largest city, has a population of more than 43,000 Indians, according to the 2010 US Census. This is followed by Fremont in California, Los Angeles in California, Chicago in Illinois, Jersey City in New Jersey and Houston in Texas.

Registered Indian-American voters

“In the US, one can be a citizen and can vote, but they have to register to vote,” said Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College in California, specialising in Asian-American and Latino voting behaviour, elections, interest groups and representation. 

A registered voter refers to a citizen who is qualified, has applied and been included in their respective area’s voter registration system.

“The Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAT) data identifies someone who is a citizen of age 18 years and above and is eligible to vote. But these citizens may or may not have registered to vote. It is difficult to get that figure for any Asian-American at the national-origin level, as it is not reported by the Census,” Sara told TNM in a telephonic conversation. 

The IAAS pointed out that political participation is “more muted” among the naturalised Indian-American citizens, resulting in “lower rates of voter turnout and weaker partisan identification”. 

A poll by the nonprofit RUN AAPI (an organisation of Asian-American and Pacific-Islander representation), the National AAPI Power Fund and the National Education Association found that one in three young AAPI unregistered voters do not intend to register to vote. Citing lack of motivation, they consider that their votes will make no difference or simply don’t value politics much. 

However, in a report in India Today, journalist Roshni Majumdar noted that Indian-Americans have been regularly registering and turning out to vote. Among the Asian voters, the Indian-Americans came out in droves and had the highest voting rate at 62% in the 2016 presidential elections. 

Sara echoed a similar observation. “The population of Asian-Americans constantly changes, especially among Indian-Americans. But the general trend among the Indian-American voters is that they not only register to vote but are becoming active in politics in the US,” she said, adding, “But parties should also actively mobilise their candidates to make sure these voters come out and vote.” 

States where Indian votes are vital in 2020

More than 50% of the Indian-Americans have predominantly and historically identified with the Democratic party. Among the top five states with high Indian-American voters, California, New Jersey, New York and Illinois have traditionally been a Blue state, held by the Democratic party. Texas, on the other hand, has been a Red state (since 1976), a stronghold of the Republican party. According to prediction polls, Texas now has an increasing number of Democratic voters

Among the US states that have a sizable Indian-American population, their votes could be of considerable importance in seven swing states (also called battleground states or purple states). While both the predominant parties have approximately the same support in swing states, the voters do not reliably vote for the same party during each election. These states, essentially, have large populations and, in turn, a larger number of electors or members of the Electoral College, who will then elect the US president on December 14, 2020. 

According to Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside, Indian-Americans can make a difference in many swing states closer to the election day, including in Florida (with 87,000 Indian-American voters), Pennsylvania (61,000), Georgia (57,000), Michigan (45,000) and North Carolina (36,000). “Even in Texas, which has 160,000 Indian-American voters,” said Karthick, who is the founder of Asian-American and Pacific-Islander or AAPI Data, which is a nationally recognised group that publishes demographic data and policy research of the Asian American electorate. The AAPI Data and Indiaspora (a non-profit organisation for the Indian diaspora in the US), too, had conducted a voter survey, but with a smaller population of voters.  

According to Shekar Narasimhan, chairman of AAPI Victory Fund, a Super PAC (political action committee) that engages in empowering and mobilising AAPI voters, there are 1.3 million potential Indian-American voters in eight swing states: Texas (4,75,000), Florida (1,93,000), Pennsylvania (1,56,000), Georgia (1,50,000), Michigan (1,25,000), North Carolina (1,11,000), Arizona (66,000) and Wisconsin (37,000).

Sara also pointed out that there are certain Congressional districts in Georgia that have a large number of Indian-America, where their votes will be of consequence. For example, in Georgia's 6th congressional district or Georgia 6, 11% are Indian-Americans and in Georgia 7, 13% are Indian-American voters. 

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