Imperative Patriotism and Minority Candidacies: Examining the Role of Military Status in Racial Evaluations of South Asian Candidates

AuthorNeil Visalvanich,Shyam K. Sriram
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2023, Vol. 76(1) 4459
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211069175
Imperative Patriotism and Minority
Candidacies: Examining the Role of
Military Status in Racial Evaluations of
South Asian Candidates
Neil Visalvanich
and Shyam K. Sriram
South Asians have seen an increase in representation at all levels of US government, from Congress to the Vice
Presidency, yet a paucity of work has been done examining South Asian candidates in America. The distinct nature of
South Asian candidacies allows us to examine the intersection between race and religious identity and how emphasizing
different social and political identities impact minority candidate evaluations. We theorize the potential effects of racial-
political stereotyping of South Asians,focusing specif‌ically on how a Hindu orMuslim background may negativelyinf‌luence
candidate evaluation. Additionally, we consider whether military service has any effect on evaluations of South Asian
candidates as dangerous or def‌icient. We test this theorywith a survey experiment that varies both South Asian religious
identity, political ideology, and military service. Our f‌indings indicate that white respondents are more hostile to South
Asian candidateswhen compared to white candidateswith similar biographies,and that respondents are particularly hostile
to Muslim candidates.Cueing military service alleviatesthis handicap for Muslim candidates,but further analysis reveals that
military service only improves perceptions among Democratic respondents.
South Asian American, military service, patriotism, voter evaluations, candidates
In 2006, in the midst of the Iraq War and the War on
Terror, the race for the open seat in Minnesotas third
congressional district pitted Republican Erik Paulsen against
Democrat J. Ashwin Madia, a Marine Corps veteran.
Madias youthful prof‌ile and diverse background were
deemed by many to be a winning combination and he
emphasized his military service on the campaign trail. A
month before the election, a television attack ad aired na-
tionally with footage of Madia thathadbeeneditedsothat
his skin tone appeared darker. Minnesota GOP off‌icials
emphasized that Madia was not one of us.Although many
decried these campaign tactics, Madia lost by almost eight
percentage points, a sizable drop from expectations (Weaver
2012). Since his defeat, however, a larger number of South
Asian Americans have sought and won elected off‌ice, most
prominently Vice President Kamala Harris who is of Indian
and Jamaican descent (Sadhwani and Arora 2020).
Research has found a distinct hierarchy in how a white
majority view racial minorities in the United States (Kim
1999) with Asians seen positively in comparison to black
people on issues related to civic and social integrity, and
that this hierarchy also extends to political candidates
(Visalvanich 2017a,b). However, South Asiansplace in
this hierarchical dynamic remains unclear. On the one
hand, South Asians possess many of the same qualities as
East Asians, especially when it comes to the history of US
immigration policy toward them (Bald et al. 2013;
Prashad 2000), as well as socio-economic status and
education (DeNavas-Walt, Richardson and Stringfellow
2010). On the other hand, research has found a tendency
School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University,
Durham, UK
Department of Political Science, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA,
Corresponding Author:
Shyam K. Sriram, Department of Political Science, Gonzaga University,
502 E, Boone Avenue, Spokane, WA 99258-0053, USA.
for the dominant white majority to project broad, mostly
negative stereotypes onto heterogeneous racial out-groups
(Bobo 2001;Omi and Winant 1994), including South
Asians. Recent work has also pointed to the issue of South
Asians not being seen as Asian enough.(Lee 2000).
Since the terror attacks of 9/11, South Asians have been
subject to increasing racial discrimination because of their
ethnic features (Mishra 2016;Joshi 2006).
Although the emergence of South Asians to political
prominence in and of itself begs further academic in-
vestigation, South Asian American candidacies also allow
us to examine how emphasizing different social identities
can impact minority political candidacies and voter evalu-
ations. Stereotyping of South Asians is linked to both re-
ligious identity (Lajevardi 2020;Calfano and Lajevardi
2019), as well as perceived disloyalty to America due to
the events of 9/11 (Mishra 2016). Research on social identity
theory has found that some members of racial minority out-
groups choose to emphasize different aspects of theiridentity
in order to be accepted by the higher status in-group (Hickel
et al. 2020). Scholarship on minority campaigns have
generally found that minority candidates strategically em-
phasize and de-emphasize the racial aspects of their can-
didacies to improve their chances at election (Perry 1996),
and that cueing military service can be a credible way of
asserting American values (McDermott and Panagopoulos
2015). Through a survey experiment, we test how voters
evaluate f‌ictional South Asian American candidates with
differing religious identities and examine whether empha-
sizing a military background has any effect moderating
negative racial response to South Asian candidates.
We f‌ind South Asian Muslim candidates to be sig-
nif‌icantly disadvantaged when compared to white can-
didates with a similar prof‌ile. The addition of ideological
cues diminishes this disadvantage, but we f‌ind it persists
with conservative Muslim candidates. On the other hand,
Muslim candidates with a military background receive a
boost in evaluation that is on par with white military
candidates. South Asian Hindu candidates, conversely, do
not receive as much of a boost from having a military
background as Muslim candidates do. Finally, we f‌ind
signif‌icant differential effects among partisans, with Re-
publicans being more hostile to both Muslim and Hindu
candidates. Additionally, Democrats are more favorable
toward Hindu candidates when compared to the f‌ictional
white candidates and evaluate Muslim candidates simi-
larly to their white counterparts.
Minority Candidate Stereotyping and
Racial Messaging
Voters weigh numerous factors when deciding who to
support in an election, judging not just a candidates
personal background and political record but also
evaluating the messages a candidates campaign seeks to
emphasize (Vavreck 2009;Popkin 1994). Minority can-
didates face an additional challenge of race-based ste-
reotypes impacting their candidacies as research on
minority candidates broadly has found that white voters
impute group-based stereotypes onto minority candidates
(Juenke and Shah 2016;Andersen and Junn 2010;
McDermott 1998;Sigelman et al. 1995;Terkildsen 1993).
Much of this literature has focused on examining black
and Latino candidates and has found that conservative
white voters penalize candidates by attributing racial-
political attributes onto black and Latino Democrats
(Visalvanich 2017b;Sigelman et al. 1995;McDermott
1998). Black and Latino candidates are seen as more left-
leaning and less competent than their white counterparts,
especially if they are Democrats (Visalvanich 2017b).
Although studies have shown that group-based ster-
eotyping has an inf‌luence on how minority candidates
are perceived, these group-based stereotypes can be
mitigated by party identif‌ication and politicians crafting
their own personal brands (Huffmon, Knotts and McKee
2016). Research on minority campaigns have found that
minority candidates can make strategic messaging
choices which can either seek to emphasize race or de-
emphasize race in favor of other aspects of their identity.
According to Perry (1996), candidates strategically
racializeor deracializetheir campaigns depending
on the constituency to whom they are trying to appeal.
How race factors into candidate evaluation is a combi-
nation of group-based stereotyping as well as how the
candidate decides to handle their racial identity in the
South Asians in America: Diversity
and Racialization
In order to properly understand the challenges South
Asian candidates face, we must f‌irst place South Asians
within the racial context of America and its group-based
stereotypes. South Asia covers a wide array of ethnic
groups, many with their own distinct cultures, languages,
dialects, and religions (Mishra 2016;Chakravorty, Kapur
and Singh 2016). Although these ethnic groups have
formed the basis of some major political and social
cleavages in South Asia (Mishra 2016), it is not clear that
these differences are considered distinct in America.
Research has found that white, black, and Latino re-
spondents consider South Asians to be distinct from East
Asians (Lee 2000).
Omi and Winant (1994) describe the racialization
process as one that occurs through both political insti-
tutions (in legal classif‌ications, such as racial categories in
the US Census) and how dominant groups create sub-
groups within societies by attributing qualities and values
Visalvanich and Sriram 45

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