Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) continue to be the fastest-growing minority group in the U.S., and when it comes to public policy and politics, this growth has also been increasingly reflected in the electorate.
Just in the last decade, the number of AAPI voters nearly doubled from about 2.4 million registered voters in 2000 to about 5.8 million in 2016 — about 3.7 percent of the total voting population, according to the 2018 Asian American Voter Survey conducted by APIAVote and AAPI Data.
Citing a report from the Center for American Progress and AAPI Data, Asian Americans are estimated to reach 5 percent of voters nationally by 2025 and 10 percent by 2044. It added that eight states have already reached these percentages with 5 percent or more of the AAPIs being of the citizen voting age population. In California and Hawaii, over 10 percent are of the citizen voting age population. The same increasing trends can be found when looking at counties and congressional districts.
The survey added that since 2012, the number of AAPI-serving organizations getting involved in National Voter Registration Day has increased to over 317 from 154.
“Continued population growth, coupled with increased voter registration and voter engagement efforts, have spurred AAPI serving organizations to participate in primary and special elections,” said the survey report. “With the opportunity to claim a greater portion of the vote share in lower turnout elections, AAPI community organizations dedicated additional resources to register and educate voters about the importance of voting in a primary election.”
Asked to rate the favorability of Republican and Democratic parties, AAPI respondents to the 2018 survey held a net unfavorable view of the Republican Party, with 34 percent viewing it favorably and 52 percent viewing unfavorably.
For the Democratic Party, the respondents held a larger net favorable rating, with 58 percent viewing the party favorably and 28 percent unfavorably. This was a stark contrast from the party’s net negative rating among the general American public of 52 percent viewing the party unfavorably.
Looking closer at the AAPI subgroups, percentage distributions were mostly similar. Among Democratic Party percentages, all AAPI subgroups had higher percentages viewing the party favorably than unfavorably.
But among Republican Party percentages, Filipino and Vietnamese groups differed from the other AAPI groups in having higher percentages being in favor of the party. Among Filipinos, 48 percent viewed the party favorably compared to 44 percent who viewed it unfavorably. Among the Vietnamese, 48 percent also viewed the party favorably compared to 38 percent unfavorably.
Yet, the AAPI community still makes up only a fragment of the nation’s registered voters.
According to the survey, a relatively high portion of AAPI registered voters did not identify with either party: 38 percent were described as non-identifiers, 30 percent as Independent, two percent as not knowing, and six percent reporting not thinking of themselves in “terms of political parties.”
Given the statistics, it’s no surprise that Democrats and Republicans are looking to get AAPI voters on board with their party platforms.
Efforts to reach AAPI communities
As presidential candidates head off in the campaign trail, both the Republican and Democratic parties have been laying out strategies for reaching the greater AAPI communities.
For both parties, that means not only community outreach, but engagement. This is seen as critical given the potential margins of victory, especially in Midwest states.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), who serves as the Democratic National Committee (DNC) vice chair, said that many AAPIs live in states like Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania where the total number of AAPI voters outnumber the margin of victory in those states.
“They have such an outsize opportunity to determine who wins in 2020,” Meng told the Asian Journal in an email.
Miki Carver, Asian Pacific American press secretary for the Republican National Committee (RNC), said that GOP efforts have included focusing on building off the foundations established over the last two cycles that proved successful in the last presidential race.
In the last cycle, the RNC traveled across the U.S. to host trainings with AAPI leaders and volunteers through their flagship program called the Republican Leadership Initiative. The party sees growth in the leadership program as better positioning them for 2020.
So far, the RNC has either hosted events or plans to host events in states including Arizona, California, Nevada, Washington D.C., New York, Florida, Michigan, and Texas.
The RNC has also held multiple roundtables in states to provide an opportunity for communities to be informed on President Donald Trump’s policies.
“We have placed a premium on building relationships and having a presence in every community and neighborhood across the country,” Carver told the Asian Journal in an email.
“We made big inroads in the midterm cycle, and now with that permanent infrastructure in place — combined with the positive results of the Trump administration — we are primed to build on this success in 2020,” added Carver.
As for the Democratic Party, the DNC announced its Organizing Corp 2020 program, which will recruit young college students in their junior and senior years to organize communities in key battleground states including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin where the DNC recently announced it would host its Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.
“I’m excited about Milwaukee because Milwaukee gives us the best opportunity to talk about so many values as the Democratic Party,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez told the Asian Journal, adding as an example how Milwaukee’s history of unions aligns with the Democratic Party’s union movement.
Perez said that while the party fell short in the 2016 presidential cycle particularly in the Midwest, the party wants to make sure that the upcoming election yields better results.
Meng said that efforts include eliminating barriers that prevent AAPIs from voting.
“In states like Georgia and Texas, AAPIs are being prevented and discouraged from voting because of onerous requirements like exact-match registration and English only ballots,” said Meng.
Perez highlighted how the AAPI community played a critical role in the success of Democrats and a number of key races across the U.S. in the 2018 midterm elections.
“We have worked hard to organize in the AAPI community and we work hard to make sure that our values and priorities reflect the values and priorities of the community,” said Perez. “That’s been a real key to our success and we are going to continue that.”
Currently, the number of Democrats who have made their presidential runs official far outweigh that of the GOP, which has Trump vying for re-election.
While a few Republicans, such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have hinted to possibly running, only former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld has thrown his hat in the ring.
Many Republicans, including Jevon O.A. Williams, RNC committeeman for the Virgin Islands, have expressed wanting to protect Trump from running opposed in the Republican Party, reported the Washington Examiner.
But in the Democratic Party, over a dozen Democratic leaders have officially announced their run, with a few more leaders including former Vice President Joe Biden potentially joining in the race.
In light of the large pool of candidates, Perez said that what unites the party far exceeds their differences.
“I think we understand that we must never confuse unity and unanimity,” said Perez.
He said that despite the possible differences in addressing key party issues, all Democratic candidates share the core views of securing universal health care, where AAPIs remain uninsured or underinsured, and combating climate change for example.
“We can have debates about what the particular path to combat climate change is, but there can’t be any debate about the fact that climate change is real,” said Perez. “And so long as we have that understanding, that unity that we share on these critical basic values, I think that’s how we continue to thrive.”
Meng dove deeper and said, “AAPI communities are not monolithic, and the issues that specific communities might be concerned about can range from recognition for Filipino and Hmong veterans, deportation relief for former war refugees, and fair access to higher education.”
“But it is important to note that AAPIs are also concerned about the same issues that all Americans are concerned about: how to put food on the table, pay for their children’s doctor visits, and have enough money saved for retirement,” added Meng. “As long as the DNC continues to fight for fairness and opportunity for all Americans, we are confident that our message will resonate with AAPI voters.”
As for choosing candidates, Perez encouraged people to watch the debates and ask questions.
“I truly believe that the more voters have a chance to talk to our candidates, the more excited they’ll be about our candidates,” said Perez.