Polls have generally found that Biden is making at least some progress on that front. But he’s continually struggled to generate much excitement among younger people, especially those who are nonwhite. Many Democrats are hopeful that Harris will provide more of the spark with younger people of color that he has not (within the limits of the vice-presidential nominee’s capacity to influence the race).
In 2016, just 60 percent of eligible African American voters turned out, down from 67 percent in 2012, according to the Census Bureau. Kasim Reed, the African American former mayor of Atlanta, told me last night he is confident that Harris’s position—combined with antipathy toward Trump and Biden’s own connections with older Black voters—will ensure a dramatic rebound in Black participation. “I am going on the record that Black turnout is going to exceed President [Barack] Obama’s Black turnout,” Reed said. Harris’s selection “sends a very important message that high achievement and dedication matter.”
Others are more cautious about her potential to energize younger voters. Harris is a demographic bridge between Biden and the modern Democratic Party, but she’s not nearly as much of an ideological bridge. Though she ran sharply to the left during the early stages of her unsteady presidential bid, her record, like Biden’s, is fundamentally moderate.
Stanley B. Greenberg, a veteran Democratic pollster, told me that overall, he believes Harris will boost Biden. “I think this will be viewed as real, historic, and likely to be helpful to him in many ways,” Greenberg said. “It will look like a generational change, like someone who is in touch with the country, who can prosecute the case against the administration and against [Mike] Pence” during the vice-presidential debate this fall.
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But to the extent that lagging youth enthusiasm for Biden represents ideological suspicion of him, Greenberg said, Harris isn’t likely to solve the problem. Instead, that will probably require sustained engagement from other, more liberal figures in the party, such as Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Uncertainty about Biden’s and Harris’s commitment to the full slate of ambitious policing and civil-rights reforms pushed by many racial-justice advocates threatens friction if the ticket wins, Steve Phillips, the founder of the advocacy group Democracy in Color, predicts. “These are people who have been strong voices for far-reaching change, and they have found a lot of leaders, including Kamala, wanting,” he told me.
But he believes that between now and November, those concerns will be eclipsed by the powerful message Biden has sent about “the centrality of African Americans in general, and Black women in particular,” to the Democratic Party. “I think that given the depth and the pervasiveness of the … racism and sexism of this president, to be able to put up a strong, unapologetic, culturally relevant woman of color is really going to resonate with people,” Phillips said.