Trump vs Biden: Indian-American Voters Torn Over Tax Reforms

Median per capita income of the 4 million Indian Americans is upwards of $100K, highest among immigrants.

Published
Opinion
6 min read
Indian-American voters are torn over Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s tax plan.
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Geeta Chopra of Pennsylvania invested in a franchise business, hiring 35 persons, after Donald Trump became president, and recently added a real estate business to her portfolio. She says: “I was able to do all this because of the tax cuts and deregulation that Trump administration offered.”

Geeta is also a TV presenter and writer, and she believes that all the gains will be wiped out if Biden becomes US President.

Geeta Chopra, TV presenter and writer.
Geeta Chopra, TV presenter and writer.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint/Savita Patel)
She compare Biden’s tax plan to a wartime plan. “They aim to generate taxes in the range of 19.5 percent of GDP, which is comparable to the financing needed for Vietnam, Korean and WW2 wars. We are not in a war. Why even come to America then.”

On the other coast, Nitesh Bhagwanani started with a grocery store enterprise and over the last 2 years, has become the owner of multiple gas stations in Yakima city of Washington state. He attributes some of his success to conducive tax policies. There is Trump signage and flags around Yakima, but Nitesh plans to not vote.

He says, “I have left it to kismet. Morally, it is right to go for Democrats... Trump is unethical, but for ‘lalach’ (greed), we are not being able to go against him, because he tempts us. I fight with myself for this, to rise above.”

Indian Americans Have Highest Per Capita Income Among Immigrants

Indian Americans are generally fiscally conservative and the current election is becoming a choice between conserving their hard-earned money versus voting for progressive issues – like climate action, race relations and gender equity.

Considered the model immigrant community, median per capita income of the 4 million Indian Americans is upwards of $100K, highest among immigrants.

Around 75 percent of Indian Americans have a graduate degree, compared to 31.5 percent of Americans in general. This profile makes them lean towards liberal social values.
  • Presidential vote choice by ethnicity, 2016
  • Presidential vote choice by ethnicity, 2020

The 2016 National Asian American Survey, directed by Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor at the School of Public Policy at UC Riverside, showed that 77 percent of Indian Americans voted for former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Biden Tax Reforms

About 80 percent of Indian Americans view President Trump unfavourably, according to the survey, which was conducted shortly after the 8 November 2016 general election.

The trend in 2020 is expected to be similar, except a slight shift in the base, thanks to being courted by President Trump in rallies and ads, the Trump-Modi friendship display and for many, the Biden Tax Plan.

Biden proposes to raise the individual tax rate from 37 percent to 39.6 percent on income above $400k, and raise the top capital-gains tax rate. Biden also plans to increase the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. The annual $400k limit applies to 1.8 percent of families, which are expected to earn 24.8 percent of the income in 2021.

These changes will affect numerous wealthy Indian American families who are in the top tax bracket. Director of Global Studies at Temple University, and the author of ‘The Other 1 percent - Indians in America’, Dr Sanjoy Chakravorty says: “Income of the top 1 percent of Indian Americans is likely to be very high, but probably not very different from that of the top 1 percent of the general American population. The wealth or net worth of this stratosphere is almost impossible to determine anyway, for Indians or the general population.”

Dr Sangay Mishra of Drew University, author of ‘Desis Divided: The Political Lives of South Asian Americans’, acknowledges that some in the Indian community might be feeling torn by economics versus ideology conflict.

Indian Americans desire political stability and would like to see aggressive white nationalistic politics go away. But, a small layer might have a conflict for economic reasons.

“No one has studied how the top 1 percent Indians vote. They are major contributors to political campaigns, which is not typical of immigrants.”
Dr Sangay Mishra

‘Indian Americans Likely to Vote for Biden’

Most Indian Americans interviewed for this story said they will vote for Biden because they perceive democracy and American institutions as being threatened. They want better race relations, gender equality, climate action, humane immigrant policies, and less polarisation.

Harini Krishnan, a Democratic Organiser based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Co State Director at ‘South Asians for Biden’, was a lead volunteer organiser for the Kamala Harris campaign in California.

She has got to know Kamala and her extended family really well in the process. We spoke with her about some Indian Americans, who seem to be sitting on the fence in this election cycle.

Democrat Vice-President candidate Kamala Harris with Harini Krishnan, Democratic Organiser.
Democrat Vice-President candidate Kamala Harris with Harini Krishnan, Democratic Organiser.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint/Savita Patel)
Democrat Vice-President candidate Kamala Harris with Harini Krishnan, Democratic Organiser.
Democrat Vice-President candidate Kamala Harris with Harini Krishnan, Democratic Organiser.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint/ Savita Patel)
Harini Krishnan, Democratic Organiser, and Kamala Harris husband Douglas Emhoff.
Harini Krishnan, Democratic Organiser, and Kamala Harris husband Douglas Emhoff.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint/ Savita Patel)
“There are many of us, Indian Americans, not just the top 1 percent, who align with the Democrats. We care about taxes and the economy. At the same time, a model community is about giving back.”
Harini Krishnan, Democratic Organiser

She has organised fundraisers for numerous Democrats and Senate races.

Silicon Valley is home to many Indian success stories, and affluence brings the means and will to participate in the political process.

Another Valley-based passionate Democrat, venture capitalist and Chief Strategy Officer of Lyft, Rajil Kapoor believes:

“His (Biden) plan is needed given massive inequality in our country – including the middle class – which will lead to more unrest if not addressed. He is addressing the wealthy and corporations who have underpaid taxes relative to their fair share and who trump gave $1.5T in value through his tax cuts. Note, I will likely pay more taxes under his plan but am OK with it as I think his spending will result in significant new jobs and opportunities for us all.”

Not all ‘elite’ Indian Americans in the Valley are democrats.

Vish Mishra, a venture capitalist, of TiECON fame, is a Republican. Considered among the most successful Indians, he has been in the US for more than 50 years. He does not identify with the fringe Right or the fringe Left and believes that heavy taxes reduce disposable income, and shrink the economy.

He says, “Voting decision in every election is based on economics, it is always the number 1 priority for individuals.”

When asked why there is not enough Trump signage around the Valley, Mishra remarked that the ‘other party’ has become very belligerent, and people get targeted if you display a flag.

He adds, “You don’t display your religion on your sleeve.”

Religion has been introduced in the fray this time for Indian Americans. Some Hindus in the US will vote for Trump this November, like second generation Rakhi Israni of Fremont, a proud Hindu, who felt emotionally overwhelmed at the 2017 ‘Howdy Modi’ event.

She attended it with all four of her children and describes it as, “Getting the chills when the crowd stood up, the pride you felt like an Indian American, even though I am the second generation here.”

Even though, she says, that saving taxes is a very short-sighted way of looking at it, there are many Indian American voters for whom that will be a determining factor.

Some Indians we spoke with, wished to remain un-named for this feature.

An entrepreneur based in Fort Worth, Texas, admires Trump, “He has done wonders for the economy, as evidenced by the roaring stock market and 20 percent tax cuts.”

We also spoke with a founder of a Silicon Valley company, worth more than $100m, with offices in many cities and continents, who will vote for Trump, only because of better tax policies. He wants to remain anonymous.

Financial advisors in the Valley are busy these days, as their clients need help restructuring portfolios and savings, in anticipation of a change in the White House, and the tax implications that will bring. While Biden is ahead of Trump in recent polls, their ratings on economic issues have been similar.

(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced ‘Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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