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Drawing a line from minority discrimination to electoral outcomes

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After the past few days of news coverage, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the reality for Asian Americans this past year.

Stop AAPI Hate, an Asian American advocacy group, recorded 3,795 anti-Asian hate incidents between March 19, 2020 — shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared — and Feb. 28, 2020. Sixty-eight percent reported verbal harassment, 21 percent reported shunning and 11 percent reported physical assaults. That represents a 150 percent increase in the past year.

Robert Long, the gunman who killed eight people in Atlanta last week, including six Asian Americans, has been charged with eight counts of murder and his conservative church congregation voted to expel him. At the same time, as journalist Connie Chung put it, the media were “miserably late” to covering anti-Asian hate.

Chung is right. And we echo the sentiment that more diversity in newsrooms is needed to ensure we get these critical stories right.

But shoddy reporting on such issues doesn’t just have a human impact; it affects electoral outcomes in a major way. Lack of diversity, and frankly nuance, in newsrooms and political strategy is a key reason Democrats missed central plotlines of the 2020 election and cost us several seats.

A media that misses necessary context and signals don’t match the moment in which we live, where it has become a societal and government priority to amplify minority voices and work toward building equity. Thinking that this entire community votes in a similar fashion because of a single reason is trite and intellectually dishonest.  

More specifically, the reality of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), Latino and, to a lesser degree, Black voting preferences came as too much of a surprise on Election Day when it was clear months in advance if there had been more investment in diverse analysis and storytelling. We immediately blame polling, but this is more than just a failure of the polling industry. 

Consider that the main narrative of the 2020 race was that the Biden/Harris ticket built a historic coalition wherein Black, Asian, Latino and white suburbanite voters delivered key wins in states such as Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. While pieces of that are true, this misses the forest for the trees.

The AAPI vote, while representing 5 percent of the electorate, comprises over 50 ethnic groups and 100 spoken languages in the United States. But even within these communities, comparing AAPI groups in California to any other context misses the point. While President Biden had strong AAPI support throughout the election cycle, California — the state with the highest AAPI population — produced reporting that generally missed strong signals for Republican AAPI congressional candidates, such as now-Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steele connecting with AAPI communities locally to upset Democratic incumbents — in a cycle that went to Democrats in the state by almost 30 points. 

Despite rhetoric and policies largely seen as anti-AAPI, former President Trump actually gained 7 percentage points with AAPI voters. Most AAPI groups did not have the breakout Democratic increases that the media anticipated. What’s more, if there isn’t substantive change in the wake of the Atlanta shootings, there could be further alienation from Democrats in the AAPI community. They remain taken for granted as an up-for-grabs electoral community. 

Focus on the growing 32 million Latino vote has understandably gained attention and importance, but it appeared that coverage through much of the 2020 cycle made incorrect assumptions that Latinos vote in one bloc and only care about immigration. Democratic consultants such as Chuck Rocha rang the alarm months out of Election Day, but the warnings fell on largely deaf ears.

These misses were felt larger in Texas and Florida — key states of political intrigue. Based on the data, Trump’s jobs message and law-and-order posture resonated with Texas Latinos and Florida Cubans and Venezuelans. 

In Texas, while it was a reach for Biden to capture the Lone Star State, there was confidence that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric would bring concerned Latinos over to the Democrats. The data did not come to that conclusion. In metropolitan areas that represent the bulk of Texas’s Latino communities, Biden’s margins over Trump did not move beyond Hillary Clinton’s overall 2016 Texas numbers. The analysis in key counties, however, shows that Biden underperformed. For example, in Starr County, where Clinton won by 60 points over Trump in 2016, Biden barely pulled out a 5-point victory, a telling 55-point difference.

In Florida, there were signals of underperformance throughout the Biden campaign with Latinos as Cubans and Venezuelans. One theory was that Trump’s hardline “anti-socialism” stance against Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro resonated with these key voters.

While Biden focused on the importance of temporary protected status for Venezuelans and opening Cuban-U.S. ties, the Trump campaign focused heavily on a narrative that Maduro wanted Biden to win. This campaign actively targeted Florida’s 200,000 Venezuelan population. In Doral, a Venezuelan stronghold in Miami-Dade County, Trump pulled in roughly 49 percent of voters in 2020, up from 29 percent in 2016.

Overall, in Miami-Dade, Trump garnered nearly 200,000 more votes than he had in 2016, erasing Democratic margins by 23 percentage points. This advantage in South Florida allowed for Trump to take the Sunshine State by almost 375,000 votes, the largest margin in a presidential election there since 1988.

And then there’s the 12 percent of Black voters who supported President Trump, a virtual impossibility if you believed the pre-election coverage. Black women stayed with Democrats while Trump picked up the greatest share of support from Black men a Republican candidate has seen in decades.

It’s no surprise that newsrooms misinterpreted this analysis. The American Society of News Editors annual newsroom diversity survey found Latino and non-whites made up 12 percent of newspaper editorial staffs in 2000. By 2016, that figure had gone up slightly, to 17 percent, well under half of the 38 percent Latino or non-white in the population.

We in no way seek to minimize the tragedy of the Atlanta shootings by talking politics. But the reality is that some failings in covering the shootings reflect the same failings we saw in recent election cycles. We owe the AAPI community better. And if we believe that Democratic policies are better for minority voters, which we do personally, we have a lot of work to do in better serving these communities with political attention and insightful analysis. Both are in short supply.

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.

Jeff Le is a political partner with the Truman National Security Project. He was deputy cabinet secretary to former California Gov. Jerry Brown (2015 to 2019). Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyDLe.

Tags Atlanta shootings Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Newsroom diversity Stop AAPI Hate

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