Open Letter to the Progressive Establishment Regarding Asian American and Pacific Islanders
Are you listening to us yet? We are the margin of victory and demand to be acknowledged.
By: Shekar Narasimhan & Varun Nikore
Dear Progressive Leaders:
Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are the fastest-growing, most ethnically diverse and wealthiest enclave in the United States, yet we continue to be ignored by the American political system. Over the past decade, AAPIs donate, on a per capita basis, as much as white Americans but have received little to no return on our political investment. We suspect that AAPI donors have little patience for continued giving to Democratic groups when a series of group-think electoral decisions got us into the biggest mess of our lifetimes.
In the ever-changing political landscape, our vote has shifted from only 31% voting for Democrat candidates in 1992 to over 73% voting for Democrats in 2016. This shift has been caused somewhat by the Democratic Party’s inclusive messaging compared to xenophobic rhetoric from the Republican Party. This move consistently puts the AAPI vote in the crucial support column for Democratic candidates across the board. Any candidate running as a Democrat must know that a critical voting block is right under their nose and time is past due to notice who their voter base really is.
As a result of this shift, the Republican National Committee invested over $5 million into the AAPI community, along with year-round staff, in the 2016 campaign cycle. The Democratic National Committee, well, maybe $50,000. For over the last 20 years, the DNC’s philosophy has been that if AAPIs want outreach done from the DNC, our community had to find separate funding mechanisms. During the last campaign cycle, we continuously battled to be noticed within the DNC, Presidential campaign, campaign committees and progressive establishment, despite our contributions and votes to candidates across the country.
As leaders of the AAPI Victory Fund, we found great success this year on the states and candidates that we targeted. There have been a record number of AAPIs elected to Congress, and our voters have become the margin of victory in many states including Nevada, Virginia and North Carolina. The Victory Fund concentrated its resources to mobilize AAPI voters in these states through voter registration; social media and digital targeting campaigns; compelling ads in both English and several different languages; and working to form leadership groups and alliances. Perhaps most significant, we were able to identify four million new AAPI voters in the voter file. Not only did every AAPI ethnicity turn out in higher margins for Hillary Clinton versus 2012, but our total turnout numbers actually increased when several key demographic groups were down. To sum up, we had a winning formula in an election when overall voter turnout was depressed. DNC — are you listening yet?
In North Carolina, the Victory Fund invested heavily in the gubernatorial, state attorney general and North Carolina Supreme Court races. These tight races were won by only a few thousand votes. With margins of less than a percent in both the gubernatorial and attorney general races, AAPIs turned out in high numbers, which ultimately decided these elections. The North Carolina Supreme Court win for the Democrats shifted the court to a 4–3 favor of Democrat-affiliated justices. All three of these victories are essential to blocking restrictive legislation that seek to belittle LGBT+ individuals, immigrants and many other minority groups in the state.
While we are proud of the work that we did and our contributions, the AAPI community was continually marginalized and ignored by the Democratic establishment. We write to future candidates and chair of the DNC to urge them to make our communities a priority. Invest in us early and show us that we are valued. AAPIs have proven repeatedly that we are an asset, especially in crucial swing states. We hope the Committee and the progressive establishment will return the same commitment to our community and the policies that will benefit it.
Thank you, and we will be watching.