What Will a Biden Presidency Mean For US-Indo Relations?

Note: The original version of the article was published on November 24th in “The Daily Guardian”.

President-Elect of the United States Joe Biden. Source: Market Watch

Joe Biden is set to become the 46th United States President at the White House. His running mate Kamala Harris would become the first-ever woman, and one of colour, to become the Vice President of the United States. Donald Trump may have not conceded yet but the countries around the world are gearing up to understand what their terms of engagement would be when Joe Biden officially enters the Oval Office. New Delhi, in particular, would be looking to solidify its ties with the next US government as rising border tensions with China and the ever-present ‘Pakistan’ dilemma will twin up as major security threats in coming years.

Currently, India is seen as the US’s major strategic partner in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). China’s expansionist policies in the IOR and the US’ commitment towards upholding a ‘rules-based international order’ is bound to strengthen the Indo-US ties in the years to follow.

The other positives for India would include the possible relaxation of restrictions on H1B and other job-based visa programmes. Also, with the coming of Biden, the US government is set to re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement. This would prove to be a boost for India’s measures to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels by enabling collaboration in environmental sustainability and technology transfer. More importantly, China will no longer need to fill up the vacuum left by the US (led by Trump) when they pulled out of the Paris deal. Although China is currently one of the biggest investors in sustainable technologies, their own production and consumption (further pushed by their population size) bring forth a requirement from other countries to build climate-friendly policies. A country like the US can actually transition more easily because it has the capacity to handle that shift and the burden on partner countries would be less.

Other highlights of Biden’s policy paper which were released during the campaign was that the United States would continue to co-operate with India on Terrorism, health and trade amongst other sectors. More importantly, the Biden administration is said to place importance on strengthening the Indo-US ties by pushing for India’s permanent membership bid at the UN Security Council (UNSC).

It is highly unlikely that all of the support would come for free. The Republican government of Donald Trump has time and again expressed its displeasure on China and Pakistan more openly than any previous governments. The Sino-Pak ties have in fact grown stronger during the Trump administration which has made the Trump government view India as a partner rather than a threat arising in the Asian order. With the entry of Joe Biden, this is bound to change. The Democrat government is more likely to leverage Pakistan vis-a-vis Taliban (in the Afghan Peace deal) by increasing cooperation and financial aid to pull them away from China. This would push India to try and gain a place at the ‘Peace Deal’ table as Afghanistan’s friend. However, the amount of geopolitical polarisation caused by the Trump administration will make it tough for Biden to immediately strike up a friendship with Pakistan and oust China.

India is a sovereign country and everybody is aware of the Modi-Trump bonhomie. In fact, Prime Minister Modi extended his hand for Trump during Trump’s re-election campaign. Trump was more vocal against China when border tensions grew and did not interfere much on India’s internal decisions. Biden’s campaign, on the other hand, included the fact that he would look into the Kashmir issue, the CAA, and the NRC. The Indian government may not like the US’ interference in sovereign decisions and it is likely that not seeing eye to eye in this regard is likely to dent Indo-US relations.

At this point, Biden’s stance on China and how it sees India is vague and the same goes for India. The positives and challenges for India are analysed based on Biden’s campaign points and the existing geopolitical scenario. No campaign rhetoric ever stays rigid as it is bound to change while in power. The growing geoeconomic convergence too will expand the spheres of cooperation between India and the US in areas such as cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, Defence, etc. As the US leapfrogs into stability, the Indo-US relationship is set to evolve into a much more stable one as well.

US-Presidential Election Results 2020: Is a stable Washington around the corner?

On 7th November 2020, after winning the state of Pennsylvania, and thereby, the electoral college, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was elected as the 46th president of the United States. Biden won the election with 290 electoral votes (50.7% of the popular vote) while Donald Trump managed to get only 214 electoral votes (47.7% of the popular vote). Biden supporters across the country and the world celebrated his victory as well as the historic victory of Senator Kamala Harris of California, who will be the first woman to serve as vice president of the country. On the other hand, hundreds of supporters of Donald Trump have taken to the streets in key swing states as Trump claims the “election is far from over”.

Trump has refused to formally concede the election results and has filed lawsuits in various states, including Michigan, Georgia, Nevada with no success. Even as senior members of the Republican party have begun to distance themselves from Trump, he refuses to give a concession speech. Concession speeches are not a legal requirement in the United States, and Trump’s refusal to do so means nothing for the outcome of the elections, which has already been declared by election officials. As the Biden administration begins its transition into the White House, let us dive deep into the results of the 2020 elections in the United States and see what happened across states and demographics.

How did the swing states vote?

Swing or battleground states in the United States election refer to highly competitive states which historically “swing” between voting for different political parties in presidential elections. Out of the 50 states in the US, 38 votes consistently for the same party (2000–2016). In the United States, unlike other countries where governments are elected on a basis of popular votes, a system called the electoral college is used. The electoral college is a body of delegates from each US state, and when any American casts a vote, they are actually voting for who their state will vote for. Perhaps the most important thing to note about the electoral college is that the candidate with the highest number of votes in a state claims all the electoral votes of the state. Due to the electoral college system present in the United States, states are the most important jurisdictional unit in voting.

The electoral college nearly always operates with a winner-takes-all system, in which the candidate with the highest number of votes in a state claims all of that state’s electoral votes

Because of this, swing states receive a lot of attention from political parties, candidates and political analysts as often they play the most important role in determining the result of an election.

In the 2016 election, Donald Trump secured his victory by winning 6 out of the 10 most competitive swing states. In 2020, as per most pollsters, the swing or battleground states were likely to be Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Out of these states, as per the Cook Political Report Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina would be the most important in determining who wins the 2020 presidential race.

With 15 electoral votes, the state of North Carolina was historically a Republican stronghold, however, over the years it has showcased a shift in voting patterns similar to national trends of polarization. While cities in the state swing Democratic, rural areas in the state tend to swing towards the Republicans. In 2016, Trump won the state by 3.7% while this time, he won the state with a much smaller margin of 1.4%. Biden secured 48.7% of the votes in the state.

In the state of Arizona in the past 72 years, only two Democrats have won, Bill Clinton in 1996 and Harry Truman in 1948. However, due to the increasing number of Hispanic voters in the state, it has become a battleground for parties. While in 2016, Trump won the state by 3.5% points, Biden won the historically Republican state by a razor-thin margin of 0.5% (11 electoral votes).

With 10 electoral college votes, the state of Wisconsin has usually been a democratic state (although with narrow margins at times). However, in 2016, Trump managed to flip the state, securing his victory by a narrow margin of 0.77% points. In 2020, the state sided with Biden and the democratic party, who secured his victory with a margin of 0.7%.

The state of Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral votes had voted for Democrats in six consecutive elections before Trump’s victory in 2016. Trump managed to flip the state in 2016, securing his victory with a margin of 0.7%, however, failed to win it again in 2020. Co-incidentally, Biden also secured this state in 2020 with a margin of 0.7%.

In 2016, Trump won the state of Michigan by a margin of mere 0.2% points, which was the narrowest margin of any state. With 16 electoral college votes, before 2016, the state voted Democratic in the past six elections. Biden won the state in 2020 with a 2.6% margin. With 29 electoral college votes, Florida is the swing state with not only the most electoral college votes but also the highest population. Out of the past 17 presidential elections, Florida has voted Republican in 12 elections. What is interesting to note is that since 1964 Florida has voted with the eventual winner of the presidential election in all elections except for 1992 (not including 2020). In 2016, Trump won the state with 0.2%, while in 2020 Biden secured the state with a margin of 2.7% points.

How did different demographics vote?

The Presidential Election saw a huge voter turnout in decades even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the country. The voter turnout rate (estimated) was around 66.4%, the highest since 1990 and much higher than that recorded in 2016 (60.1%). In fact, Biden received more than 75 million votes, which are higher than any other candidate in US electoral history. There was a huge surge in youth voter turnout of around 10% in the country.

As per the Exit Polls conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC), we will explore the changes in support for the Republican and Democratic party in 2020 as compared to 2016. When examining the support for both candidates by race, we observe that while Trump still had the support of 49% of white men, this was considerably lesser than in 2016. Trump’s base of core voters is white men (without college degrees), and while he won the group again, it was by a much smaller margin.

It should also be noted that many experts suggest that the reason Biden was unable to perform better than the President in several states is that he underperformed when compared to 2016 Democratic candidate, Hilary Clinton among voters of colour. While Biden was able to win their support, it was by smaller margins than Clinton.

Source: AP

How did Indian-Americans vote?

While exit polling data is not available for Indian-American voting patterns for the 2020 election, as per the Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS) — conducted between September 1 and September 20, 2020 (which surveyed a nationally representative online survey of Indian American citizens) 72% of registered Indian American voters had planned to vote for Biden and 22% had planned to vote for Trump. Although it is estimated that Indian Americans comprise 1% of all registered voters in the United States, in the run-up to the 2020 elections, we saw both parties attempting to woo Indian American voters. While Biden’s campaign issued a manifesto aimed at Indian American voters, Trump’s campaign released an online campaign containing images of Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi together at a rally in Houston in 2019. Experts also said they think a part of the Indian-American vote bank which usually goes to Donald Trump swung to democrats due to their choice of an Indian-American running mate.

The survey also revealed that Indian Americans do not think Indo-American relations are one of the most important factors affecting their voting choice. National issues of importance such as healthcare and economy are the most important issues influencing their vote. When looking at the demographics breakdown of the survey we observe that overall Indians of all religious faiths said they would vote for Biden to Trump. However, it is interesting to note that 82% of Indian Muslims said they would support Biden as compared to only 67% of Indian Hindus and 49% Indian Christians. Additionally, dissimilar to the national trend, there is almost no gender gap in the support for Trump and Biden amongst American Indians. 69% of women and 68% of men said they would support Biden, while 19% of women and 24% of men said they would vote for Trump.

- Shreya Maskara and Mohan Babu /New Delhi

From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.

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Polstrat is a political consultancy aiming to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.