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Democrats see spike in turnout among Asian American, Pacific Islander voters

Democrats see spike in turnout among Asian American, Pacific Islander voters
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Democrats up and down the ballot were buoyed this year by a spike in turnout among Asian American and Pacific Islanders, reaping the benefits of a concerted, years-long effort by the party to make inroads in the community.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing racial demographic of eligible voters in the country and had the sharpest increase in turnout this year compared to any other ethnic voting bloc, with exit polls showing they broke hard for Democrats and could even have made the difference in key swing states that went to President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenDobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' Should deficits matter any more? Biden's Cabinet gradually confirmed by Senate MORE.

According to details provided first to The Hill, the showing of Asian American and Pacific Islander voters in 2020 was the result of a campaign by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and others to make inroads with the community, which had long been overlooked as Democrats focused on ginning up support with Black and Hispanic voters.

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“These results are years in the making, and this is just what a little bit of recognition and investment from the party can do. These are the sorts of results that can be yielded with just a tiny bit of investment,” said Rep. Grace MengGrace MengRemember Asian American voters Democrats see spike in turnout among Asian American, Pacific Islander voters Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet MORE (D-N.Y.), a vice chair of the DNC who was heavily involved in the campaign to win over these voters. “In the early vote in the battleground states, there is no community that outperformed us.”

Democrats realized after President TrumpDonald TrumpBlinken holds first calls as Biden's secretary of State Senators discussing Trump censure resolution Dobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' MORE’s surprise 2016 victory that there was an untapped well of support among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who lean Democratic but failed to turn out in force four years ago. Figures compiled by the DNC showed that the number of these voters who did not cast ballots in battleground states in 2016 outnumbered the margin of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonEverytown urges Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to resign over newly uncovered remarks Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed support on Facebook for violence against Democrats McConnell last spoke to Trump on Dec. 15 MORE’s defeat in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, four crucial swing states that went for Trump.

DNC's Asian American and Pacific Islanders Caucus Chairwoman Bel Leong-Hong said the 2016 results sparked broader outreach to these voters across the country and new efforts within the party to ensure that voters who did not cast ballots would choose to vote in future cycles.

“I thought it was a very strong argument, especially with our community, that many of them didn’t come out and didn’t register to vote,” she said, recounting conversations she had with voters. “I said, ‘do you know that we lost by this margin? Do you know that if we all registered and we all voted, we would beat that margin?’ And indeed we did.”

Meng and Leong-Hong credited DNC Chairman Tom PerezThomas PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE and former DNC CEO Seema Nanda with recognizing the need to shift the party’s strategy toward Asian American and Pacific Islander voters after they said the demographic was neglected for years.

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“In 2016, we did not have this kind of investment. Tom Perez came on board, and his outlook was a lot more inclusive. He and Seema and Grace have to be credited for pushing for a lot more inclusion to include the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the overall scheme of things,” said Leong-Hong. “If you go back to 2016, there was a lot of investments in the Black and the browns to the tunes of millions. Never did they mention including in that the [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders].”

The DNC began hiring organizers starting in 2017 in key states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, and high-level staffers began making numerous trips to battlegrounds across the country to meet with lawmakers and organizers, including a visit Meng made to Georgia on her wedding anniversary that year.

Democrats also reinforced their efforts to build outreach via multilingual ethnic media outlets and new caucuses within state parties, which ultimately grew large enough that they were able to help their grow similar groups in neighboring states. A heavy investment was also made in improving the party’s data regarding Asian American and Pacific Islander voters and campaign materials translated into 20 different languages were distributed across the country.

“That’s been Tom’s main focus, that it has to be every ZIP code and that there are no more off years. We can’t say, ‘oh, it’s only 2017 there’s no major elections, we don’t have to invest.’ That is the moment when the investments are most fruitful. These are human relationships that the party is building with these communities, especially communities who are not accustomed to outreach by the party, communities that might not be watching cable news networks,” said Meng.

“We needed the party, and they finally did reach out to the local Hmong paper or the Chinese-language paper in their community that their families were reading instead of only communicating via mainstream papers or cable news networks. That wasn’t enough, and oftentimes that was not able to reach these communities,” Meng added.

The DNC and Biden campaign ultimately made a multimillion-dollar investment in organizing and engagement focused on that demographic, with the 2020 cycle marking the first time the party as a whole made a seven-figure investment in outreach efforts specific to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The DNC’s campaign was boosted by similar efforts by the Biden campaign and groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats’ campaign arm. Biden’s camp and the DCCC both made unprecedented seven-figure investments each in paid media in foreign language outlets to reach Asian American and Pacific Islander voters, and the DCCC conducted its first large-scale research project of the demographic across the battlegrounds.

Democrats also seized on controversy from the White House, particularly Trump’s harsh rhetoric regarding the coronavirus.

“This current president using words that empower discriminatory words and attacks like ‘kung flu’ or ‘Chinese virus’ certainly didn’t help the Republican Party or Donald Trump, but I think it’s because of efforts through the DNC and through everyday community groups in the past three or four years that gave us the credibility to say, ‘hey, do you remember us? We visited you, we’ve been talking and communicating with you. These words are not OK coming from the president. Would you consider voting Democrat, would you consider voting for Biden-Harris?’ ” said Meng.

The efforts, aided by the climate, paid large dividends for Democrats. Asian American and Pacific Islander early and absentee voting rose 300 percent in the 13 most competitive presidential battleground states, and in 47 states, the group's turnout in early voting exceeded its total 2016 turnout.

Preliminary data from the AP VoteCast Survey shows that 70 percent of these voters cast their ballots for Biden compared to 28 percent for Trump, giving the president-elect a huge boon. In Arizona and Georgia, two states that hadn’t been won by Democrats since the 1990s, the increase in the number of Asian American and Pacific Islander voters was greater than the margins of victory in each state.

Democrats said the efforts to empower Asian American and Pacific Islander voters put the demographic in the same conversation within the party as Black and Hispanic voters and provide a roadmap for the party moving forward — but they warn that such outreach needs to be maintained to see similar results in future cycles.

“I do feel like we are finally on the map, finally,” said Meng. “And my biggest concern is that we don’t stop these investments. We have to keep going, that we are kept on the map.”