Indian Americans divided on India’s trajectory, says survey

They oppose crackdowns on media and police force on peaceful protesters

Published - February 09, 2021 11:50 am IST

Indian Americans are divided on their views about India’s trajectory, while the most popular political party in the country is the BJP with Prime Minister Narendra Modi being supported by almost half of Indian Americans, a new survey report has found. It also found that most Indian Americans oppose government crackdowns on the media and the use of police force on peaceful protesters.

Respondents are also more liberal on U.S. issues while holding more conservative positions on Indian matters.

The survey report, “How Do Indian Americans View India? Results from the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS),” is based on the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey of 1,200 Indian American adults (+/- 2.8 % margin of error) from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins-SAIS, and the University of Pennsylvania in partnership with YouGov. The survey report, co-authored by Sumitra Badrinathan, Devesh Kapur and Milan Vaishnav, is the second of a set of two studies of the political attitudes of Indian Americans done by the IAAS.

Thirty nine per cent of Indian Americans feel India is moving in the wrong direction, while 36% feel it is on the right track. As a comparator, 67% of the IAAS respondents felt the U.S. was on the wrong track (data were collected in September 2020). A larger share of Indian Americans born outside America felt that India was on the right track.

Most (65%) Indian Americans either strongly or somewhat oppose the use of police force against individuals peacefully opposing the governments citizenship laws (CAA and NRC). Most (69%) also oppose the government’s use of defamation and sedition laws to silence reporters critical of the Modi administration. However, over half support the NRC (55%) and a wafer thin majority that supports the CAA (51%).

Indian American views on issues also vary according to context and the results are indicative of respondents taking more liberal positions in the U.S. context. Studying positions across similar issues in the India and U.S. contexts, the survey finds that generally 90% of Indian Americans support the notion of equal treatment of people belonging to different religions but this number is 60% for a specific U.S. context (the ‘Muslim ban’ ) and drops further to 49% in the Indian context (CAA).

Regarding how respondents felt about the extent of their support for India, the largest group — 35% — said they were “generally pro-India but also critical of some of the Indian government’s policies.” Another 23% were “generally pro-India but also critical of ‘many of the Indian government’s policies.”

Support for Modi varies across groups

However, 49% give Mr. Modi a favourable approval rating. “The religious divide is striking,” the report says. “Almost seven in 10 Hindus approve of Modi’s performance, while just one in five Muslims do the same. Indian American Christians are almost evenly divided.”

The results do not support the notion that there is a clear relationship between support for former U.S. President Donald Trump and for Mr. Modi. Respondents who disapprove of Mr. Trump are split in their assessment of Mr. Modi — 41% approve of his performance and 38% disapprove of it. The support for Mr. Modi is greater among those who support Mr. Trump.

Support for Mr. Modi is higher among non-U.S. Citizen Indian Americans, naturalised citizens, recent immigrants, and those who speak Hindi and languages of Western India (Gujarati, Marathi).

Support also increases with age

Indian Americans who are engineers support Mr. Modi more than those who are non-engineers (this is not just a byproduct of education, the authors say, as it is true at every level of education).

Congress fares poorly

Many Indian Americans — a solid 40% — are not plugged into Indian politics as evidenced by their “don’t know” answer to Indian political affiliations. However, 32% identified most closely with the BJP. The Congress did worse relatively, with just 12% identifying with it.

“When it comes to the Congress Party and [Rahul] Gandhi, however, both Democrats and Republicans are relatively bearish,” the authors say.

Foreign policy

In the first survey report, whose analysis used the responses of 936 U.S. citizens (who have the right to vote) in the larger 1,200 Indian American sample, just 3% of respondents had said India-U.S. relations were the single most important election issue for them ahead of the November presidential race. This latest study expands the results to all 1,200 respondents and finds – perhaps unsurprisingly – that non-citizens place much greater priority on the India-U.S. bilateral: 16% versus 6% of citizens ranked it as their most important issue.

Forty percent say that U.S. support for India is “about right” , while 24% say the U.S. is not supportive enough of India, and 12% say it is “too supportive”.

Almost two third of Indian Americans have an unfavourable view of China , with 36% holding a “very unfavourable” view of the country.

U.S.-China-India ties

The survey also found that foreign-born Indian Americans are more hawkish on the U.S.-China-India dynamic than their U.S.-born counterparts. Fifty three per cent of foreign-born respondents feel that the U.S. should help strengthen India’s military as a check against China, relative to 38% of U.S.-born Indian Americans. About a fifth of foreign born respondents said the U.S. should not provoke China further by strengthening India’s military, while a higher proportion — a third — of U.S.-born Indian Americans felt that way.

Partisan splits on China are also evident, the authors say. Sixty nine per cent of Republican respondents want the U.S. to strengthen India’s military to check China’s power, while 41% of Democrat respondents feel that way.

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