India Factor in US Presidential Election 2020

Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
October 25th, 2020


Image Courtesy: Times of India

Most elections are fought primarily on local issues. But the foreign policy does constitute an important segment of the US presidential election for the simple reason that the United States is a global power and its engagements with the rest of the world has deeper domestic roots. In addition, events abroad may or may not impact the voters in the United States directly, but the US economic and military footprints in every corner of the world do affect the country’s political landscape and economy.

During the campaign, the presidential candidates and the party they represent put forth their positions on foreign policy before the American public to consider. What positions a candidate would take, if elected president, on international trade, combating international terrorism, and mitigating environmental degradations are issues both corporate America and common citizens are concerned with. All those three issues impact the US economic conditions, public health and physical security of people. Trade and jobs, environmental issues and health and terrorism and physical security have direct co-relation.

President Donald Trump walked out of the Paris Climate Accord, Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and dealt a severe blow to the dreaded Islamic State. He has also been promising withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan before Christmas. Viewing the country’s trade deals, bilateral, trilateral and multilateral as bad deals, he resorted to re-negotiate NAFTA, gave a call for a renegotiation of TPP, and imposed a high tariff on aluminium and steel imports from even traditional trade partners.

More significantly he unleashed a trade war against China that had been amassing huge trade surpluses year after year. All these policies of the Trump Administration with the slogan of “America First” rarely kicked any domestic controversy. His unilateral policy initiatives and actions annoyed American allies and competitors, but President Trump could claim that he did what he promised to do before the US electorate.

Alleged Russian, Chinese, and Iranian interferences in election processes, President Donald Trump’s bank account in China, use of US assistance to pressure Ukraine to investigate allegations against Joe Biden’s son are also prominent issues in the current presidential election campaigns. India factor in the campaign has also come up with a statement by President Trump that air quality in India is “filthy” and Joe Biden countering it by saying that such language should not be used against a friendly country.

Significantly, both President Trump and Joe Biden seem to be competing with each other to adopt a stricter policy towards China. On the contrary, both the camps are trying to woo the Indian American voters by signalling to continue and further strengthen the strategic partnership between the US and India.

It is difficult to say whom the Indian Americans will vote. It needs emphasis that the Indian American community in recent years has become politically more active and they have also played an important role in sustaining a social bridge between India and the United States. While constituting a very small percentage of the American voters, their substantial presence in some key states, including swing states, has enhanced their importance for the presidential contenders. According to reports, Indian American voters in Texas are about 470, 000, in Florida about 190, 000, in Pennsylvania 170, 000, in  Virginia about 165, 000, in Georgia about 150, 000, in Michigan about 120, 000 and in North Carolina about 110, 000.

There are groups who call themselves “Hindu Americans for Biden” and others are “Hindu Voices for Trump.” This indicates that both the Democratic campaigns and the Republican campaigns are enthusiastically chasing the Indian American votes. Interestingly, this also signals that the Indian American votes will be divided. There is no Indian American voting bloc!

There is little doubt that thousands of admirers of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may actually support Donald Trump’s re-election. Houston political rally and Ahmadabad rally where Modi-Trump friendship was showcased may actually benefit Trump to some extent in this election. At the time of worst ever tension since 1962 along the Line Actual Control between China and India, the Trump Administration has displayed considerable support to India as against the Chinese belligerent behaviour. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not only openly chided China for its antagonistic and hostile movements against India and other countries but also has explicitly backed India’s policy and position.

The efforts in the Tokyo meeting of foreign ministers of the US, India, Japan and Australia to strengthen QUAD to deal with the emerging situation of Chinese expansionism and the 2+2 Indo-US strategic dialogue involving the defence and foreign policy establishments of the two countries in New Delhi days before the November 3rd US presidential election speak louder about Trump’s India policy and may encourage a large number of Indian Americans to vote for him.

However, there will still be Indian Americans who will vote for Joe Biden due to other reasons. After all, Indian Americans are US citizens. They will weigh the Trump policies and the prospective Biden policies that may impact their lives and accordingly cast their votes.