Narendra Modi- Donald Trump
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Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump leave the stage at NRG Stadium after a rally in September 2019 in Houston, Texas.
As U.S. President Donald Trump prepares for a state visit to India, the two nations' economic relationship will take center stage after several months of back-and-forth about escalating tariffs. And while Trump himself receives positive marks from the Indian populace, some of his specific policies and trade attitudes in general do not garner the same warm reception.

A majority of Indians have confidence in Donald Trump to do the right thing when it comes to world affairs. Trump's image in India has gained favor since his candidacy in 2016, jumping from 14% confidence to 56% over three years. Much of this movement is accompanied by more people now offering an opinion about the U.S. president. The share volunteering a response of "don't know" or declining to answer has fallen precipitously over the same period, from 67% in 2016 to just 30% in 2019. Meanwhile, the small share of those saying they lack confidence in Trump when it comes to foreign policy has remained stable. These latest numbers resemble those of Trump's predecessor: Before Barack Obama left office, 58% of Indians had confidence in him in world affairs, while 9% had no confidence and 33% did not offer an opinion.

Trump rating in India
© Spring 2019 global Attitudes Survey.
Those who associate more with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are more likely than supporters of the Indian National Congress opposition party to voice confidence in Trump. (Those who are closer to the BJP are also more likely to offer an opinion.)


Comment: 70% of Indians live in rural areas and they tend to be more conservative than the urban populace.


However, when asked about their views of Trump's policy on increasing tariffs or fees on imported goods from other countries, about half of Indians (48%) say they disapprove. A quarter approve, and roughly another quarter do not offer an opinion. Those who most identify with BJP are just as likely as Congress supporters to disapprove of this measure and less likely to provide an answer.


Comment: "Self reliance" is the mantra of post-Independent Indian rulers. Generations of corruption have given popularity to the nationalistic politics of Narendra Modi.


In the past year, the U.S. expanded aluminum and steel tariffs and also stripped India of its preferential trading partner status under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences that provided better access to American markets and better tariff rates for Indian exporters; the Indian government then issued retaliatory tariffs against the U.S.

One ongoing point of contention for Trump in bilateral trade relations has been tariffs on high-end Harley-Davidson motorcycles imposed by India. Most of the Harley-Davidsons sold in India are not actually subject to trade barriers because they are made in the country at an American-owned factory located in Bawal.

The Indian public voices much enthusiasm for this kind of so-called "greenfield" investment arrangement, in which a company establishes operations in a foreign country. A majority believes that foreign companies building new factories in India has a good impact on their country, including 24% who say this is very good. This type of investment is more popular than foreign mergers and acquisitions, where a foreign company buys a domestic company outright. Just 43% of Indians say it's good when foreign companies buy Indian companies, compared with 47% who think that has a bad impact on their nation.
Indians view of Foreign businesses
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Views of U.S. and Chinese influence on India's economy

One key goal of Trump's upcoming trip is for his administration to strengthen its relationship with the world's largest democracy as a counterbalance to growing Chinese influence around the globe. And India stands out as a prime place for the U.S. president to curry favor: When asked whether having stronger economic ties with the U.S. or China was more important, 62% of Indians pick the United States.


Comment: The United States would like to use India to counter balance China, however New Delhi likes to follow its own independent multi-polar foreign policy.
Friends or foes? As India gears up to talk to the West, meet the architect of its new 'India first' foreign policy ...

Far from bending the knee, New Delhi has begun to pursue independent economic and foreign policies, a move largely unappreciated in the West. India's Foreign Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is one of the chief architects of these policies, yet few have picked up on the hints he's dropped on the doorsteps of Europe and the US.

Geopolitical shift


In Jaishankar's worldview, the post-1945 bipolar world and the post-1992 American unipolar world are no longer applicable. "Things change, nothing is engraved in stone. This world will be different, power will be more dispersed, there will be more actors," he confided to a French newspaper last November. He also feels India and China have a common interest in re-balancing the US-dominated world order.

"Multilateralism can today be strengthened by more creative diplomacy and plurilateral understanding," he said while speaking in Munich last weekend.

Jaishankar is only taking cues from his boss Modi, who once ticked off Trump in a joint media interaction session by stating India wouldn't like third-party mediation on Kashmir. Trump has alluded to variations of "mediation/arbitration/interventions" on Kashmir at least seven times in as many months and India has never failed to ask the US to back off.
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U.S.-Indian relations are held in high regard among Indian adults, with about three-quarters saying current relations overall as well as economic ties are good between the two nations. But when it comes to China, the Indian public is more negative: 61% of Indians say China's growing economy is a bad thing for their country. And unlike the positive marks India gives the U.S. and its president, views of China and Chinese President Xi Jinping tilt more negative. While 21% of Indians have confidence in Xi, 36% say they lack confidence in him when it comes to world affairs. Likewise, 23% have a favorable view of China while 46% have an unfavorable view of the country. Indians are also much more likely to see the U.S. as an ally and China as a threat.


Comment: India lost part of its territory in the region of Ladhak to China in the war of 1962, and China supports Pakistan, India's traditional rival, these both play a part in Indians dislike towards China.


When asked about how the U.S. and China are influencing India's economy, another clear split appears. Similar proportions of Indians say that the U.S. and China exert at least some influence on their economic situation (69% vs. 62%, respectively). But when asked whether that influence is good or bad, nearly opposite opinions are held, with about two-thirds saying U.S. influence is good, but the same percentage asserting that Chinese influence is bad for the Indian economy.
Indians view US and Chinese View
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