Voters across Georgia are casting their ballots in an election that will determine the balance of power in the Senate. In these highly competitive races, every vote counts — including those of the estimated 58,000 registered Indian American voters, who make up the largest subgroup of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the state.
Indian Americans have seen their political stock rise in 2020 with the election of Kamala D. Harris — whose mother was born in Chennai, India — as the next vice president of the United States. Indian Americans across the country celebrated her victory, with some calling her election an “early Diwali present.”
What’s more, four Indian Americans — the “Samosa Caucus,” as the Indian media has referred to them — were reelected to Congress. And 12 were elected to state legislative positions.
That answers a widespread desire among Indian Americans to have fellow “desis” representing them in political office, we found in our most recent Indian American Election Survey, conducted shortly before the November election. Alongside that desire, we find that most Indian Americans say they would feel better represented with more Indian Americans in elected office — in part because they think that the Indian American community shares a political, economic and cultural outlook, and goals.
How we did our research
To run our survey, we used the firm Lucid to collect a sample of 1,003 Indians living in the United States. The sample includes Hindus, Muslims, Christians and respondents of other religious backgrounds. About 59 percent were born overseas, mostly in India. Respondents or their families hail from 25 of India’s 28 states and the Delhi region. The survey was conducted Oct. 13-30. The sample was census-matched for age, gender, education level, political party and geographic region.
We asked respondents about their political behavior, relationships with other members of their community, and desire for what political scientists call greater “descriptive representation,” or having others like them in office.
Large majorities said they want more Indian Americans elected to political office
Large majorities thought that Indian Americans “definitely” or “probably” have common political, economic and cultural interests. Fully 59 percent of respondents said they would support an Indian American candidate running for political office regardless of party affiliation; 66 percent said they would feel better represented if more Indian Americans were elected to office at the local, state and federal levels.
Those views were strongest among those born outside the United States; Hindus; and those whose families hail from South India, with larger majorities of each subgroup expressing a belief in common interests, expressing an interest in seeing more desis in office, and feeling more represented by fellow Indian Americans. However, most agreed on almost all of these points, regardless of religion, generation and party identification. That is particularly striking given the diversity of the community.
We also asked respondents whether they would support a candidate of another Asian background running for political office, regardless of party affiliation. Fifty-seven percent agreed that they would.
These findings fit with Sara Sadhwani’s past work. She examined voter turnout in California State Assembly elections from 2012 to 2018, finding that Indian Americans voted in larger numbers when an Indian American candidate — or another Asian American candidate — was on the ballot.
Implications for the future of Indian American politics
Indian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic subgroup in the country, concentrated in key states such as California, Texas, Georgia, Florida and Pennsylvania. Despite being a highly diverse community, they have the highest average income and education levels of any other U.S. racial or ethnic subgroup. Moreover, Indian Americans have gotten significantly more politically involved in recent years, voting at higher rates. In 2020, 30,000 first-time voters in Georgia were Asian American or Pacific Islander, with the organization Indian American Impact Fund spending $2.5 million to mobilize South Asian voters. With the growing numbers of Indian Americans in political office at levels as high as the vice presidency, many in the community are likely to be inspired to get even more involved — becoming a force in U.S. politics.
We also found high levels of support for the Democratic Party and Democratic politicians, especially Harris. Despite Donald Trump’s many efforts to win the affection of the Indian American community, 63 percent align themselves with the Democratic Party compared with only 22 percent with the GOP. With a fellow desi as vice president, the Samosa Caucus reelected, several Indian Americans named by President-elect Joe Biden to prominent positions in his administration, and as crucial voters in the Senate runoff elections in Georgia, Indian Americans are significant in the Democratic Party coalition.
Sara Sadhwani (@sarasadhwani) is an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College and a senior researcher at AAPI Data.
Maneesh Arora (@maneesh_arora) is an assistant professor of political science at Wellesley College.