The world is paying close attention to the latest and grandest spectacle of the United States of America – the 2016 presidential election. People are placing their bets on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Democratic and Republican nominees respectively, as the candidates now lay their final cards, in the run up to voting in November.
With a population of nearly 3.2 million, Indian-Americans in the US and more than 56 per cent of them being US citizens form a substantial chunk of polling migrants (as of 2013; the numbers may have likely increased in the following three years), whose votes can’t be ignored by either major parties.
Indians form the third-largest ethnic group among Asians in the US after Chinese and Filipinos. While the median household income in US in 2013 was $51,939, the same for Indian Americans (as of 2013) was $88,000, well above the average, putting most of them in the higher income bracket. 28 per cent of Indian-Americans in the US work in the science and engineering sectors, both of which are high-paying fields.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited New York in September 2015, he was received by a thunderous crowd, indicating a massive support base for the Indian leader abroad. In fact, NRIs were some of the biggest donors to PM Modi’s 2014 election campaign. There may be parallels drawn between the ruling party in India, the BJP and the Republican Party, for their conservative stands on issues, especially on migration of other communities in their respective countries, namely Muslims. Both parties have had religion as a major part of their narrative. It would seem likely, then, that a lot of the NRIs support the Republicans. However, according to the Pew Research Center, 65 per cent of Indian-Americans are known to lean towards the Democratic party.
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Data Source: Pew Research Center
Anjuli Belwal has been living in the US for more than 10 years and has always supported the Democrats. “We’ll vote for Hillary. She is the only Democratic candidate. We’re not entirely happy to have her but we’re left with little choice,” she said.
It is especially the youth that seem to be in favour of Hillary Clinton, who is currently leading between the two candidates. “I am voting for Hillary,” said 23-year-old Aanchal Srivastava, who was born and brought up in Cincinnati. “She has actual experience and tangible plans. She doesn’t promise to fix anything without a plan and she’s truly worked to be president and it also represents how women can be a changing power,” she added.
It seems much of the aversion for the Republican candidate Donald Trump emanates from the divisive rhetoric he spews at campaign rallies. He has made his displeasure towards migrants and Muslims very clear, with his tough immigration policies, including a temporary ban on the entry of Muslims. On his website, detailing on the ‘wall’ that will help keep out the Mexican immigrants, Trump makes it clear that ‘immigration is a privilege, not a right’. In order to obtain the privilege, Trump wants the Mexicans to pay for it, by paying for the wall.
Trump has also called out both his opponents Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama on their inability to see attacks all over the world as ‘radical Islamic terrorism’. In 2015, he suggested the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Cherry Srivastav, resident of Texas, has lived in the US for 18 years and is quick to declare her loyalties. “I will be voting for Hillary Clinton solely on the fact that Donald Trump is a hateful, ignorant, awful leader. I would not feel safe in any country if someone like Donald Trump was the leader,” she said.
Interestingly, the respondents were inclined towards Narendra Modi back in India. It seems an anomaly for the same people to be supporting the Democrats, then, considering the nature of the two parties and leaders.
Indian-Americans are strong proponents of a lenient immigration system since they aren’t native to the country themselves. Shekhar Sarebahi, a resident of California, will be able to vote in the next presidential election in 2020, but is actively a part of all discussions. “You know what Trump’s stand is on immigrants and Indians being migrants themselves, don’t think they should be siding with someone who has such a hardline policy on immigrants. So Indians want to support Hillary Clinton,” he said.
The income groups also have a huge role to play in deciding which party to vote for. The Republican party is known to favour the rich, attracting the elite of the country. 62 per cent of Americans believe that the GOP favours the rich, according to a Pew report. Considering the median income of Indian-American in the US, the GOP may be a magnet for the more well-off Indian-Americans.
Shikha Sarebahi has been practicing medicine in Virginia for more than 10 years and is disgruntled with both the candidates. “I wouldn’t want to vote for either of them but if I had to, I would choose Trump. I don’t have anything against Hillary, I even like her but the Democrats have a terrible policy record against the rich and the higher income group. So I can’t vote for her. It has to be the much hated Trump due to his being with the GOP,” she said.
Rangolee Arora, another doctor living in the US, is not eligible to vote but said she doesn’t echo the sentiments of her contemporaries. “Most doctors as a group support the Republican Party, since they have better tax breaks. I lean towards the Democrats. They’re more progressive in my opinion. My husband hates Trump’s guts and that’s putting it lightly. So I’d go for lesser of the two evils,” she said.
While the gap between the two candidates has narrowed, the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is leading in the polls currently although that does not stop her from being the least popular candidate in the history of Democrats. In fact, in May 2016, Clinton and Trump were equal on a disapproval poll. Hatred is, it seems, the flavour of this year’s presidential election, with the disapproval ratings of both candidates at an all time high. Data suggests that the highest disapproval rating was of 2008 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, at 53 per cent. The current presidential candidates have been topping that figure, with Trump at 62 per cent and Clinton at 55 per cent, according to Gallup.
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Data source: Roper Center/Cornell University
From 1980 Blue/Red: John B. Anderson/Ronald Reagan | Walter Mondale/Ronald Reagan* | Michael Dukakis/GHW Bush | Bill Clinton/GHW Bush* | Bill Clinton*/Bob Dole | Al Gore/GW Bush | John Kerry/GW Bush* | Barack Obama/John McCain | Barack Obama*/Mitt Romney
*The empty bars represent incumbent candidates.
Earlier in 2016, a poll conducted by NBC News/Wall Street Journal was more clearly representative of the dislike. Since this was before the Democratic and Republican conventions, where the parties’ official nominees were announced, 47% of respondents had said that if it came down to choosing between Clinton and Trump, they would seriously consider the independent candidates. From the looks of it, then, the election is to choose the lesser evil.
A 23-year-old woman, who declined to be identified, faces a similar dilemma. “I am leaning towards voting for Hillary Clinton in November: she seems to be the least worst between the two major party nominations. I really have no way of knowing what Trump would or wouldn’t do as far as affecting the future of our country. He’s unpredictable and his character isn’t presidential. I think Clinton in the White House would be somewhat of a continuation of Obama’s policies, but I am skeptical with her history of corruption scandals,” she said. She has been a resident in the US for the last 16 years.
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Data Source: Pew Research Center/January 2016
Since Clinton was endorsed by Obama, his approval ratings could also be helping Clinton. Clinton is most often disliked because of her links to corruption and her e-mail scandal.
Chhavi Varma, resident of Houston, Texas, is wary of Clinton. Elaborating on her disillusionment by the candidates, she said, “Both the candidates represent the extreme sad state of American politics. Clinton has nothing to show for herself. Plus all the shady business with emails also does not put her in a very likable place. Trump is another disaster. No words are required for him.”
She, however, is not the first or the only politician to be associated with corruption. The term corrupt often comes second to the term politician. The fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman and stands to be the first female president of the United States seems to work against her. Clinton is a strong-headed candidate who has been portrayed by most media as menacing and ambitious, traits that aren’t associated with the female gender. It seems to have added to her ‘corruption’ charges, making her as hated as Trump.
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Data source: Roper Center/Cornell University
Her being a woman doesn’t discount Clinton from allegations of or incrimination against corruption but the hatred for just that seems unprecedented, making more voters flock towards Trump, in spite of his hate politics.
Trump’s words seem to ring very true for Chhavi. “He has been elected following the right process. He has defeated 19 other candidates to become the Republican nominee. Whatever he is saying for the most part is right. I’m not saying the way he verbalizing it is right but the fact of the matter is he is saying what needs to be said,” she explained.
She remained unimpressed by PM Modi’s New York speech, however. “It was flattery for America and repetitions about India-US ties. I didn’t quite feel okay with that,” she said.
It would be interesting to observe how their behaviours change if and when they have to make a political decision back here, in India. But for now, it’s mostly liberal ideals all the way for the NRIs.