During a keynote address at a symposium hosted by the Ford Foundation in 2015, Senator Kamala Harris, who at the time was the California attorney general, called people aged 18 to 24 “stupid.”
She said, “What’s the other thing we know about this population? And it’s a specific phase of life. And remember, age is more than a chronological fact. What else do we know about this population, 18 through 24? They are stupid.”
“That is why we put them in dormitories, and they have a resident assistant. They make really bad decisions,” she added.
In reference to the Democratic presidential candidate’s remarks on young people at the symposium, a spokesperson for the Harris campaign later stated that “it was a joke.”
Senator Harris was speaking about her “Back on Track” program that she launched as the San Francisco district attorney. It was intended to reduce recidivism among low-level drug-trafficking defendants, particularly among young adults aged 18 to 24, although those aged up to 30 were also taking part in the program.
Senator Harris has been doing poorly with young voters on the campaign trail. According to a poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School in March 2019, among men aged 18 to 29, only three percent said they supported Harris, while among women of that age only seven percent supporter her.
Even after a good performance in the first Democratic primary debate, Harris continues to have difficulties with younger voters. An ABC News/Washington Post Poll from last Wednesday showed only 10 percent of those aged 18 to 49 supporting Harris, behind both Biden and Sanders.
Young people are expected again to play a bigger role in the 2020 election compared to 2016, with 43 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 stating that they will vote in their party’s primary or caucus.
Knowing this, Harris appears to be attempting to win over young voters in various ways for the 2020 presidential election.
In 2019, Harris tweeted, “Young people are leading the way and demanding change. Their courage motives [motivates] me to keep fighting,” with a link to “5 Young Black Activists Making History Right Now.”
Her presidential campaign also hosted “Camp Kamala” training events at Iowa college campuses to encourage young people to participate in caucus organizing efforts.
In addition, Harris indicated, as president, she would support some form of a free college proposal, the refinancing of federal student loans at lower interest rates, and a stronger stance against for-profit colleges.
However, given her past comments, it remains unclear whether she can really win over the hearts of young people.