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Kamala Harris can boost Asian Americans voter turnout: Study

Washington, DCVeronica Hossain registered to vote for the first time during the 2008 presidential election because she wanted to vote for Barack Obama. As an Indo-Carribean American, she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to vote for a Black man for president whose values she aligned with.

Ahead of the 2020 Democratic primaries, Hossain supported Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. — who is half-Indian and half-Jamaican — and was excited when Harris was chosen as Joe Biden’s vice presidential nominee. She said it motivated her even more to vote for the Democratic ticket in November.

Hossain, 37, told NBC Asian America that having Harris on the ticket was a huge win for the South Asian community, specifically for South Asian women.

“It helps me engage politically because earlier I didn’t comprehend that we can not only vote but also hold these positions in the government,” said Hossain, a board member for the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group South Asian American Voice, which promotes the rights of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean Americans.

Like Hossain, many Indian Americans are more likely to show up at the polls when an Indian American is running. According to a new study, the group is more than 16 percent more likely to vote when a candidate of Indian descent is on the ballot.

The study, by Sara Sadhwani, a professor of politics at Pomona College, showed that overall Asian American turnout is boosted when another Asian American is on the ballot, regardless of political party. She said Indians had the highest mobilization rate of any ethnic group she examined — Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and Filipino.

Sadhwani said she expects this trend to continue in November.

“My research does suggest there will be a higher voter turnout from Asian Americans and specifically Indian Americans for the election, especially if they see Kamala as someone with their shared identity,” she said, noting that other factors such as the pandemic will also play a role.

One of the reasons Sadhwani said she conducted this research was the lack of data on voting patterns among Asian Americans, even though the number of eligible voters in the community grew by 139 per cent in the last two decades as per the Pew Research Center.

She examined six years of vote returns in California state assembly elections and identified a voter’s race or ethnicity based on their last name. Based on this information, she calculated how much pan-ethnic turnout was affected when an Asian American candidate was on the ballot.

This trend has also been noted with Harris herself. While most Asian American voters in California were undecided on whom to vote for in the 2016 senate race between Harris and fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez, 56 per cent Indian Americans supported Harris — more than any other subgroup.

The research firm AAPI Data also found that when Asian American voters in California were told ahead of the primary that Harris is half Asian American, support for her candidacy went up by 11 per cent.

“Indian Americans have historically identified as Democrats and have a more solidified partisan identity,” Sadhwani said. “They have a longer history of making financial contributions and engaging in politics, so even if there hasn’t been a huge presence on a national scale before, Indian Americans have been part of the process as shown in their voting behavior.” (Source:

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