The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

The politically neglected minority: Asian Americans and COVID-19

Getty Images

We are less than two months away from Election Day and the polls are tightening in critical swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Both former vice president Joe Biden’s and President Trump’s campaigns are acutely aware that they must do the legwork to win come Nov. 3. Their travel schedules have increased demonstrably, especially Biden’s, and political advertising has ramped up. 

With the onset of true campaign season, there has been a focus on minority voters. Biden’s march to victory in the Democratic primary was largely because of Black Americans, and Trump regularly claims that his economic policies have been great for Black Americans. And while Biden maintains a commanding lead with Black voters, Trump undoubtedly is gaining ground with Latinx voters, garnering 45 percent support in a recent Quinnipiac poll of Floridians — a big change from 2016 when Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly won Florida Latinx and Hispanic communities by double digits.

Neither of us would ever deny the impact of Black and Latino voters on American elections, but we are perplexed about why Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are left out of the conversation.

AAPI’s political influence has grown exponentially; eligible voters have more than doubled since 2000 and more than 11 million will be able to vote this year. What’s more, AAPI communities make up nearly 5 percent of the nation’s eligible voters and their growing presence in battleground states such as Nevada, Georgia and Florida could carry the election for either candidate. 

Sounds like a critical bloc, right? Surprisingly, polling suggests that the vast majority of Asian Americans have not been contacted by either major party this cycle, leaving a big opening.

There are four potential avenues to address the AAPI community effectively: discrimination, education, health care and small business. A successful political approach recognizes that the effects of COVID-19 underpin all four.  

AAPI communities have been disproportionally impacted by the president’s COVID-19 response — especially its negative repercussions for health care systems, small businesses and educational institutions — as well as by growing experiences of discrimination. At least half of Americans killed by COVID-19 have been “people of color — Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and to a marked degree unrecognized until now, Asian Americans,” according to the Marshall Project.

COVID-19 and discrimination: There has been a significant increase in anti-Asian American discrimination amid the pandemic that the Trump administration early on referred to as “kung flu” and “Wuhan virus.” According to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing and reporting anti-Asian American sentiment, there have been 2,583 incidents of discrimination and violent acts nationwide over the past six months. In addition, 58 percent of Asian American adults say it has become more common for people to express racially insensitive views about Asians than it was before the coronavirus outbreak. 

As the country embraces the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, there is opportunity to also recognize — and prioritize — the lives of the AAPI community who are suffering. 

COVID-19 and education: AAPI public school students, including 2.8 percent Asian Americans and 0.2 percent Pacific Islanders, have had their education disrupted because of spiking infections. In Florida, for example, COVID-19 cases in children jumped by more than 23 percent with about 9,200 new infections in recent weeks. In September, confirmed cases have climbed to 620,000, with more than 11,000 deaths, making the Sunshine State one of the hardest hit. Gov. Ron DeSantis’s approval rating fell to 42 percent in late August, the lowest of his administration. The AAPI community’s 3 percent of the state’s population potentially could make the difference in President Trump’s previous 1.2 percent margin of victory in 2016.

COVID-19 and health care: Asian Americans also experience elevated vulnerability as providers of essential services on the front lines of the virus response. The 1.4 million AAPI health care workers represent 8.5 percent of all essential health care workers and almost 1 million are immigrants. 

In Georgia, health care workers have experienced heightened risk. The state was among the first to begin to reopen after much of the country shut down, and state officials have resisted local face-mask orders. As a result, Georgia ranked first for new cases per 100,000 population and ninth for test positivity for weeks, which put significant strain on its hospital systems. 

Also eye-opening are disproportionate AAPI deaths from COVID-19 in the Peach State. According to AAPI Data, Georgia had a 36 percent increase in AAPI fatalities in 2020, compared with the previous five years. Gov. Brian Kemp’s approval rating fell to 46 percent last month, the lowest of his tenure. In a state where the governor narrowly won by 55,000 votes in 2018, its 222,000 AAPI community members (4.5 percent of eligible voters) could be the tipping point this cycle.  

COVID-19 and small business: While the American economy has started to improve slightly, the Las Vegas area’s 220,000 AAPI community members, the region’s fastest-growing ethnic group, have been hit hard by the downturn of tourism, gaming, hospitality and culinary services. 

Nevada had the nation’s highest unemployment in April, at 28.2 percent, and a quarter of the state’s 270,000 small businesses shuttered. They had employed 40 percent of the state’s workforce. Remaining small businesses have continued to see revenue losses of 25 percent or more. As a result, 98 percent of the powerful Culinary Union’s members were furloughed this spring, and only about half are back to work this September. With typically pro-Democratic union affiliates largely halting in-person canvassing, there is an opening for President Trump’s campaign in the state he lost by just 2.4 percent last cycle. 

Focusing on discrimination, education, health care and small business — and especially the impacts of the president’s insufficient COVID-19 response on these central aspects of American life — could help garner significant support for Biden among the AAPI community, especially in critical states where they have not been the traditional targets of political outreach. 

Considering that the 2016 election was decided by a mere 77,000 votes in battleground states, 5 percent of the nation’s eligible voting population has got to be worth the outreach for this cycle and to invest into future AAPI political engagement.  

Jeff Le was deputy cabinet secretary to former California Gov. Jerry Brown (2015 to 2019). He previously worked at the State Department, U.S. House, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Carter Center, United Nations and National Democratic Institute. He is a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations.  

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.

Tags 2020 presidential election AAPI Asian American vote Brian Kemp COVID-19 pandemic Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Ron DeSantis

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video