The Indian-American Trump Voter: A Breakdown

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Trump’s outright support of the current Indian administration under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as Trump’s considerable approval of the Indian-American work ethic, appeals to the nationalist tendencies of many first- and second-generation Indian-Americans. This pushes them to vote for him, a leader similar to the one in their homeland.

America’s tense partisan politics have stratified voters in the 2020 election based on background and ethnicity, with minorities overwhelmingly leaning toward the left, and the white majority overwhelmingly leaning toward the right. The common perception among American politicians of the Indian population’s voting tendencies is left-leaning. This is true to an extent: people of color generally feel more represented by the Democratic Party due to the party’s liberal ideologies, higher racial sensitivity, and diversity. However, Republican candidate Donald Trump’s outright support of the current Indian administration under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as Trump’s considerable approval of the Indian-American work ethic, appeals to the nationalist tendencies of many first- and second-generation Indian-Americans. This pushes them to vote for him, a leader similar to the one in their homeland. 

It is important to note that the highest proportion of Indian-American Trump supporters are between the ages of 30 to 49. Whereas other minorities see Trump’s ignorance as an indication to vote against him, the Trump administration categorizes Indians as “thriving and hardworking,” as said by Trump himself at the “Howdy Modi!” event in Texas in late 2019. Trump perpetuates the infamous “Model Minority Myth,” which stereotypes Asians as “geniuses” simply based on their culture–think helicopter moms, Kumon worksheets, and a prioritization of academia, all categorized under a rigorous work ethic. The myth has permeated into modern media, from Ravi on Jessie to Baljeet on Phineas and Ferb to Raj on the Big Bang Theory. The Model Minority Myth stereotypes Indian people as socially awkward, incapable of talking to women, and above all, ridiculously intelligent. The Trump administration’s viewing of the Indian population in this light has blinded middle and older generations of Indian-American voters who see these positive sentiments Trump displays toward their own population. The Hindutva ideology, which is a nationalist Hindu ideology that Modi promotes, bears certain similarities to white supremacy in its lauding of the majority. Currently, the latter is attempting to sever ties with the former: “Hindutva ideology is trying to distance itself from white supremacy as much as it can. In India, there’s a really close connection between the two, but in the United States they try to hide it,” said Saket Malhotra, Ethnic Studies and Migration student at Yale University and member of Students Against Hindutva Ideology (SAHI). While people of color must vote Trump out of office in order to stand against the racial prejudice that harms their communities, all Indian-Americans are not scrutinized under the current administration in the same manner. 

The Trump-Modi connection is further entrenched by the Brahmanical Patriarchy, which explains society as a scale of superiority based upon caste. Every aspect of life in the private sector for Indian families tends to be patriarchal. The tradition of male superiority has pervaded into marriage, financial, and political life. This sexism translates into politics, as electing a “strong” and “manly” leader becomes imperative. Trump has made offensive comments about women, calling them “nasty” and crudely rating them on a 1-10 scale, and, in doing so, has fashioned himself to be strong and powerful. Trump’s offensive comments about women make those who vote for him do so in disregard of his flagrant sexism. Violence against women, as well as the assumption of a male-dominated household, are constants in Indian society. Whereas the ideal woman is gentle and maternal in the Indian household, the ideal man is strong and commanding. For Modi supporters, Trump aligns with these private sector ideals: he is powerful, speaks what is on his mind, and emphasizes what he wants in a domineering manner typical of fascist leaders. 

It is easy for Indian-American voters to justify voting for Trump’s conservative economic policies, which benefit owners of small businesses. Many Indian immigrants continue to have the “American Dream” mentality that motivated them to immigrate to the United States initially. For them, the “American Dream” presents America as a land of opportunity, where the Republican ideal of a rigorous work ethic bringing success is emphasized. In contrast to other ethnic groups of immigrants, such as the African-American and Latinx communities, Indians typically come to America with a more educated background. The advantage granted to these immigrants with a medical or engineering degree is unparalleled in other minorities’ experiences. For example, “1 in every 7 people in the USA is touched by the care of a physician of Indian origin at any given time,” according to the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI). Fueling their financial dreams of stability can also equate with voting for Trump. Donald Trump casts himself as a “successful businessman” who established a multi-million dollar company with just “a small loan of a million dollars.” He claims to embody potential success for those who immigrate to America to also start a new business. Notably, Trump has an American Dream Plan, which strives to fight for the promise of the American Dream for the Hispanic population. Plans like these appeal to many Indian-American workers who immigrate to the “Land of Opportunity” to start small businesses of their own. 

There are Indian-American Trump voters who also stand against his opposing candidate Joe Biden, who denounced some of India’s policies. Although it is victorious for the Indian-American population to have Indian representation on the ballot with Vice President Kamala Harris, Modi supporters with strong ties to their homeland disapprove of the Biden-Harris ticket. A survey by Indian-American Attitudes surprisingly found that only 49% of Indian-Americans were further enthused by Joe Biden as a Democratic candidate when he picked Harris as his running mate. Biden and running mate Harris have expressed their disapproval for India’s civil policies, which Indian-Americans for Trump have used as support for their own voting decision. On the contentious Kashmir issue, Biden’s campaign website states that “the Indian government should take all necessary steps to restore rights for all the people of Kashmir. Restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the internet, weaken democracy.” This does not sit well with those who approve of Modi’s recent revocation of Article 370 and 35A, which separate Kashmir from other Indian states by granting it the power to have its own constitution. Thus, nationalist Indian-American voters lean even further to the right with Biden’s denouncement of Modi’s repealment. It is also important to note that young people, specifically Generation Z (the demographic cohort succeeding Millennials), are especially critical of contemporary politicians. Alongside this, a  rise in youth activism has occurred after the George Floyd protests that sparked a global abolitionist movement aimed at furthering social equality. With Harris’s controversial criminal justice record on full display, youth have been quick to point out her paradoxical perspectives on progressivism, especially concerning prison reform. “How hard does that representation really go when she’s hurting the people that she claims to represent?” Malhotra said. This further enthuses Indian-American voters to vote not only for Trump, but against the Biden-Harris ticket as well.

With Modi’s Anti-Muslim policies fueling ethnic discrimination in India and Trump’s white supremacist ideals sparking racial unrest in America, both leaders’ platforms are built on fascist tendencies. Voting for administrations such as these threatens the freedoms of minority populations in both countries. It is imperative that voting decisions take into consideration the protection of all races, religions, and backgrounds, not just a voter’s own ethnic group.