Kamala Harris Leaves Young South Asians Divided

Though Harris is ranked as the most progressive senator in Congress today, Gen Z South Asians are less forgiving of her record as attorney general.

Natasha Roy

August 18, 2020

Kamala Harris Leaves Young South Asians Divided
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (Gage Skidmore)

In the days after presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden selected Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) — the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to be named to a presidential ticket in the United States — news outlets reported that Indian Americans were celebrating Biden’s choice.

Yet, even though over 50% of Indian Americans surveyed in 2018 by AAPI Data, an organization that produces demographic data and policy research on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, held favorable opinions of Harris, Harris’s vice-presidential nomination has stirred more complicated feelings among Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) and millennial (those born between 1981 and 1996) South Asians. At the same time that many acknowledge Harris as one of many firsts, they’re more likely to be progressive and less forgiving of Harris’s record as California attorney general. 

Young South Asians could have a significant impact on this year’s presidential election — 24 million members of Gen Z are eligible to vote this year, making up 10% of the electorate. South Asians also tend to be the most Democratic-leaning community among Asian Americans, according to AAPI Data founder and director Karthick Ramakrishnan. 

U.S.-born children of immigrants also tend to be more progressive than foreign-born immigrants, added Ramakrishnan. Along with millennials, Gen Z is more likely to say that Black people are treated less fairly than white people in the U.S., that same-sex and interracial marriages are good for society, that more women running for political office is good, and approve of National Football League players kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

Prerna Singh, associate professor of political science at Brown University, said that she thinks Gen Z will be key, because they are not only new voters, but also more likely to be diverse than the previous generation. “It’s the confluence of Gen Z and a political climate that has seen unprecedented social mobilization in terms of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and the pushback against the attack on immigration and the border wall and the separating of children,” Singh said.

While voter turnout among young South Asian Americans has traditionally been lower, 2018 saw a large increase in turnout both for Asian Americans overall and younger Asian Americans, according to Ramakrishnan. 

He added that the Asian American — and, more narrowly, South Asian — population is sizable enough that it could account for the margin of victory in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, and Ohio — states where Ramakrishnan expects to see the Biden-Harris campaign focus on South Asian community outreach. “You’re likely to see younger Asian American voters, especially South Asian voters, in several battleground states making a difference,” Ramakrishnan said. At age 55, Harris is also far younger than her 77-year-old running mate.

Biden and Harris masks
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (Joe Biden Instagram)