The Emergence of Indian Americans as Political Contenders Amidst Internal Disputes

by Lucas Garcia
Indian American Political Influence

The palpable friction between political figures Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy was evident during their latest encounter in a debate forum.

Haley’s critique was sharp: “Every time I hear you speak, it seems to subtract from my intelligence,” she asserted to Ramaswamy.

Ramaswamy retorted, suggesting that a more constructive dialogue would benefit the Republican Party rather than exchanging barbs. Post-debate, he quipped to the press that he would opt for simpler language in the future to aid Haley’s understanding.

The duo is set to reconvene for a pivotal third presidential debate on Wednesday, presenting another opportunity to appeal to the electorate ahead of next year’s GOP primary. While lagging behind ex-President Donald Trump in the polls for the 2024 nomination, Haley and Ramaswamy signify the increasing clout of Indian American figures in politics, demonstrating the complex spectrum of perspectives within this community.

According to Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a co-author of a study on Indian American voting patterns, the Indian American demographic is broad and varied.

Both Haley, a former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador under Trump, and Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur, are testament to the ideological diversity within the Indian American populace. Haley, 51, often echoes the GOP’s conventional views, especially in international relations, advocating for sustained aid to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. On the other hand, Ramaswamy, 38, has criticized the party’s establishment and questioned the wisdom of the ongoing support for Ukraine.

The pair’s political stances diverge from the majority of Indian Americans, who predominantly lean towards the Democratic Party. Pew Research Center data indicates that 68% of Indian American registered voters affiliate with the Democrats, compared to 29% with the Republicans.

“These Republican candidates are not reflective of the overall Indian American community’s political leanings,” Vaishnav noted.

While a significant shift towards the Republican Party amongst the Indian American diaspora seems improbable, even slight gains could have implications in tightly contested states.

Maina Chawla Singh, a scholar-in-residence at the American University’s School of International Service, notes that while some segments remain invested in Indian political matters, for the majority, domestic issues take precedence—ranging from reproductive rights and immigration policies to economic concerns and hate crimes. These issues influence their electoral decisions as they are deeply intertwined with their future in the U.S.

Sangay Mishra, a political science professor at Drew University, observes that Indian Americans are increasingly positioned to emerge as conservative intellectuals and politicians, often rallying around principles like free-market economics, minimal taxation, and meritocracy.

“Given that roughly 30% of Indian Americans are Republicans, we recognize that such political candidates are neither anomalies nor do they mirror the community’s predominant ideology,” Mishra explained.

He points out that Indian Americans have thoroughly integrated into U.S. society since the first immigration wave from the 1960s to the 1980s. Moreover, the 2016 election of Donald Trump spurred progressive Indian Americans to engage more actively in local governance.

Mishra recalls the motivation from Obama’s historic presidency and Kamala Harris, of Indian descent, as vice president in 2020, in mobilizing this demographic. Despite no anticipated shifts in party allegiance among the youth, 26-year-old Rohan Pakianathan, a public policy graduate student at Rutgers University and a Ramaswamy supporter, aspires to contribute to conservative thought leadership.

Pakianathan, of Christian faith, respects Ramaswamy’s Hindu background, seeing no conflict, as he believes in America’s foundational Judeo-Christian ethos. Despite often feeling isolated within his community’s predominantly Democratic leanings, he maintains a desire for a future political landscape marked by mutual respect across party lines.

Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington remarks that the presence of Indian American candidates reflects the Republican Party’s inclusivity towards ethnic minorities, emphasizing that capability is key to ascending within the party.

With the electorate’s ethnic diversity set to grow, Olsen underscores the GOP’s necessity to resonate with people of color and possibly moderate its image as an overtly Christian party to attract non-Christian diaspora communities and those without religious affiliations.

“If people feel unwelcome, they are unlikely to engage,” Olsen concludes.

This report includes contributions from Holly Ramer of Big Big News in Concord, New Hampshire.

The religious coverage by Big Big News is supported through its collaboration with The Conversation US and funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., with the assurance that the AP holds full responsibility for the content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Indian American Political Influence

Who are Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy?

Nikki Haley is a former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador who tends to represent the traditional establishment within the Republican Party, especially in foreign policy matters. Vivek Ramaswamy is a biotech entrepreneur and author who criticizes the GOP establishment and has questioned the necessity of U.S. support for Ukraine.

What do Haley and Ramaswamy represent in the context of Indian American politics?

Haley and Ramaswamy embody the growing influence and diverse viewpoints of Indian Americans in the political realm. While they both are Republican candidates, their ideologies and policy views showcase the breadth of political thought within the Indian American community.

How do Indian American political leanings generally skew according to recent surveys?

Recent surveys, such as those conducted by the Pew Research Center, suggest that a significant majority of Indian American registered voters, about 68%, identify with the Democratic Party, while 29% align with the Republican Party.

Why might slight gains by Republicans among Indian Americans be significant?

Even marginal increases in support from the Indian American community could be consequential in closely contested states where small shifts in voter demographics can impact the outcome of elections.

What issues are most important to Indian Americans in the United States?

For many Indian Americans, domestic issues such as reproductive rights, immigration policies, economic concerns, and hate crimes are more pressing than foreign policy related to India. These issues are seen as directly affecting their lives and futures in the United States.

What is the potential for Indian Americans in conservative politics?

There is a notable presence of Indian Americans who resonate with conservative values, which could lead to an increase in Indian American conservative thinkers and political candidates. This is evidenced by the 30% of Indian Americans who identify as Republicans and the aspirations of individuals like Rohan Pakianathan.

How does the Republican Party view the candidacy of Indian American candidates?

The Republican Party, as articulated by figures like Henry Olsen, views the emergence of Indian American candidates as a sign of its openness and inclusivity. The party recognizes the importance of appealing to a diverse electorate and acknowledges the role of talent and capability in political ascendancy.

More about Indian American Political Influence

  • Nikki Haley’s Political Background
  • Vivek Ramaswamy’s Entrepreneurial Career
  • Indian Americans and the Republican Party
  • Pew Research Center’s Indian American Survey
  • The Importance of Swing States in US Elections
  • Domestic Issues Impacting Indian Americans
  • Growth of Indian American Conservatives
  • Diversity in the Republican Party
  • The Role of Ethnic Minorities in the 2024 GOP Primary

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Mike Anderson November 4, 2023 - 5:04 pm

its fascinating to see how candidates like Haley and Ramaswamy are shaping the conversation in the Republican party not something you would have seen much of a decade ago

Alex Martinez November 4, 2023 - 5:26 pm

Ramaswamy’s comment about using ‘smaller words’ next time seemed a bit off, not the best way to get your point across in a political debate imo

Emily Johnson November 4, 2023 - 5:54 pm

I think theres a typo in the part where they talk about the percentage of Indian Americans that support the Dems should be double-checked

Rachel Green November 4, 2023 - 6:59 pm

gotta say its a breath of fresh air to see diverse voices in politics, but we can’t forget this isn’t fully representative of the Indian American community as a whole

John Smith November 5, 2023 - 7:32 am

really interesting piece here, its showing a different side of the political spectrum that we don’t always get to see, the influence of Indian Americans is clearly growing in US politics

Sarah Hughes November 5, 2023 - 11:09 am

Loved reading about this, but i’m not sure all the facts are right here? maybe do a fact check on some of those statistics about voter affiliations


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