September 9, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 30—The Indian American vote, and mealworms

Senator Kamala Harris’s selection as Joe Biden’s running mate has put a spotlight on the Indian American community in the United States. The interest, in part, stems from her origins: Her mother was a biologist from the Indian city of Chennai and her father, an economist, was from Jamaica. Sumit Ganguly, a Distinguished Professor of political science and the Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilization at Indiana University, is a political scientist of Indian origin who has followed the rising trajectory of Indian Americans in American politics. He says although Indian Americans constitute a mere 1.5 percent of the population, their impact on American politics can be disproportionate. Indian Americans are among the wealthiest and most educated of all immigrant groups in the U.S. The question, Ganguly says, is how exactly do they vote? Since the days of President Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party had tried a “big tent” strategy, an effort to accommodate people of various political leanings. However, Ganguly says that is no longer the case, especially under President Trump. A majority of Indian Americans either identify with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic politically, Ganguly says. In the past, a 2012 Pew survey showed 65 percent of Indian Americans were Democrats or lean Democrat. A more recent 2020 survey shows 54 percent of Indian Americans are leaning toward the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, while 29 percent are in favor of Donald Trump. The same survey also shows that there are 1.8 million Indian Americans, whose vote in crucial swing states ranging from Arizona to Wisconsin could help tip the election one way or another. Ganguly says there may be several likely explanations for the overwhelming level of support among Indian Americans for the Democratic Party. For the past several decades, Democrats have been more welcoming of immigrants and minorities. And most Indian Americans tend to have more liberal political leanings. It may be worth noting, he says, that as many as 84 percent of the Indian American community voted for President Obama. Whether the same trend is repeated is yet to be seen.

In other news, with global food demands rising at an alarming rate, a study led by IUPUI scientists has found new evidence that a previously overlooked insect shows promise as alternative protein source: the yellow mealworm. The research, led by Christine Picard, associate professor of biology and director of the Forensic and Investigative Sciences program at the School of Science at IUPUI, has found the yellow mealworm, historically a pest, can provide benefit in a wide range of agriculture applications. Not only can it be used as an alternative source of protein for animals including fish, but its waste is also ideal as organic fertilizer, researchers say. As part of their work, Picard and her team sequenced the yellow mealworm's genome, using a new technology to produce a reliable genome sequence. The results will help those who wish to utilize the DNA and optimize the yellow mealworm for mass production and consumption. Picard says mealworms, being insects, are a part of the natural diet of many organisms. They could also be really useful in the pet food industry as an alternative protein source, chickens like insects -- and maybe one day humans, too.