Natalie Nelson | Staff Writer
With one year and seven months left to go until the next United States presidential election, politicians (and some non-politicians) have been declaring their presidential candidacies. Prominent figures such as Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, and Tulsi Gabbard have been described as strong forces for underrepresented groups in the U.S.
People who will be voting in the primaries and the general election have already shown their support for these candidates based on the candidates’ characteristics and not their political platforms. This is described as identity voting: individuals will vote based on their characteristics and not the platform they are running on. For example, people assume women are more likely to show support for a woman running for office because they can identify with the candidate’s gender.
Kamala Harris, California’s junior senator, announced her run for president in late January and was shown an immense amount of support immediately after. As a Black woman running for a position that has been not only exclusively male, but also majority white, many Black Americans are ready to proudly display their support for her campaign. She has already made her mark by being only the second Black woman to be elected to the Senate. Black Americans and women are ready for a woman of color to be in office.
In politics, two types of representation are salient: descriptive representation, in which voters give more credence to what a candidate symbolizes rather than their policies and platforms; and substantive representation, in which a candidate actually supports the preferences and identities of the people they are trying to represent. Both types of representation have merit when it comes to the characteristics of their constituents, but only substantive representation takes constituents’ opinions into account. Descriptive representation, while a symbol of hope for underrepresented citizens, can be harmful because while a candidate has the faith of their supporters, they do not necessarily have their supporters’ best interests in mind.
However, the former is not precisely what America needs in the upcoming election. Kamala Harris supports a few policies that are not conducive to an equal society, making her an ideal candidate in name only. Harris proposed a policy that would incarcerate the parents of repeat truant students. The nature of this policy did not consider the complexities of involuntary truancy and it would have contributed to the prevalent issue of mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, which criminalizes the exact demographic she expects support from. Harris’ run as Attorney General of California opened the eyes of many of her supporters in her state as well. When Harris was the district attorney in San Francisco, she refused to seek the death penalty for a suspect of a police officer’s death; however, when she was nearing reelection as the Attorney General, California’s death penalty system was ruled unconstitutional and Harris did not let the opinion stand, maintaining California’s faulty system that keeps inmates on death row for decades.
Another candidate that does not fully embody the opinions of constituents is Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard has in the past been linked to anti-Muslim Hindu nationalists and The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, an anti-LGBT group operated by her father. Although claimed to turn these views around to be less hateful, she openly supported Vladamir Putin’s attack on Syria while condemning Islam as a whole. While not every candidate is perfect, voters still have to be careful about what candidates they follow, as many politicians change their views based on what will make them most popular.
There are many other candidates that are worth exploring for the 2020 presidential election. Unknown candidates are running on platforms that work to include everybody and ultimately work toward the benefit of marginalized people in the United States, and even in other parts of the world. Julian Castro is a candidate that supports policies that would lead to a society that values people’s rights such as legal abortion after twenty weeks and the reconstruction of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Kirsten Gillibrand is another candidate whose positions should be acknowledged as beneficial to every body such as more federal funding for healthcare and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
While it would be revolutionary for Americans to have a president from a marginalized demographic, it is important to remember that voting based solely on the identity of the candidate can be dangerous if the candidate does not practice politics that strive to benefit everyone they represent. Voters can give more support to candidates that are from marginalized communities and are truly working hard to bring justice to underrepresented groups.