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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Brownstein: Asian American Voters Could Be Key for Dems in Upcoming Elections

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein explains why the Asian American vote could be pivotal for Democratic victories in the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential elections:

Even amid soaring participation from all major racial groups, Asian Americans increased their turnout by more than any other cohort, according to recently released studies by the Census Bureau and Catalist, a Democratic voter-targeting firm. In fact, no major demographic group in recent decades has increased its turnout from one election to the next as much as Asian Americans did from 2016 to 2020, the census found; not even Black voters grew that much from 2004 through to Barack Obama’s first election four years later.

Why the surge? It reflected both long-term investments from grassroots groups in organizing and the immediate threat that many Asian Americans felt from former President Donald Trump—including his policies to slash legal immigration and his racist labeling of the coronavirus as the “China virus” and even “kung flu.” Although Republicans retain pockets of strength in Asian communities, the party now faces the prospect that Trump’s words—and the link many experts see between them and the rising wave of anti-Asian hate crimes—could lastingly alienate many of the thousands of Asian Americans who voted for the first time last year.

“It’s become a defining moment for the Asian American community,” says Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political scientist at UC Riverside who studies Asian American political influence. “What you saw in 2020 was a forging of political consciousness among the younger generation that could carry [Democrats] through for years, if not decades, to come.”

Brownstein notes that “Asian Americans still represent a small sliver of the population in all but a few states. But census figures show that from 2010 to 2019, the group grew rapidly, increasing its population nationwide by nearly 30 percent, or just over 5 million people. In percentage terms, that was by far the biggest increase over the past decade for any major racial group. Among adult citizens eligible to vote, Asian Americans have doubled their share, from 2.5 percent in 2000 to 5 percent in 2020, according to calculations by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.”

And Asian American voters are showing some clout in unexpected places:

The states with the largest populations of eligible Asian American and Pacific Islander voters, Hawaii and California, are safely blue. But the groups’ numbers have also increased in Sun Belt states that are becoming tipping points in American elections. “Think about where we are growing the fastest: It’s Texas, it’s Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada,”  AAPI Victory Alliance Executive Director Varun Nikore told me.

The Asian American population isn’t nearly large enough to decide those states on its own. Although Asian Americans represent almost 9 percent of eligible voters in Nevada, they represent only about 3 percent in Georgia, Arizona, and North Carolina, Frey shared with me. Yet the rise in voter participation has proved crucial for Democrats in several closely balanced states. A growing number of Asian American voters—mostly in the Washington, D.C., suburbs—were central to tilting Virginia blue over roughly the past 15 years. They played a comparable tipping-point role in Democrats’ victories in Georgia last year, at both the presidential and senatorial level. TargetSmart, a Democratic voter-targeting firm, calculates that some 60,000 more Asian Americans voted in the state in November than had in 2016—an increase that far exceeded Joe Biden’s narrow margin of victory there… “

And the turnout trendlines are in the right direction for Democrats. As Brownstein notes, “Nationwide, Asian Americans increased their turnout at an astounding pace last year—soaring from about 49 percent in 2016 to just over 59 percent, the census found…. In its recently released analysis of voter files nationwide, Catalist calculated that the total number of votes cast by Asian Americans grew from 2016 to 2020 by almost 40 percent, reaching about 7 million. TargetSmart, in its analysis, put the increase even higher, at about 47 percent.”

In a close race – national or local – any smaller demographic group can be decisive. It appears that Republicans have blown whatever hopes they had for gaining traction with Asian American voters, and that’s a good thing for Democrats, who now have even reasons for insuring that GOTV programs for them are well-funded.

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