The impact Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders voter turnout could have on the midterms

Turnout typically determines results in any given election year. If recent trends hold, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders could sway this year’s midterms more than ever before. Laura Barrón-López spoke with Christine Chen of APIAVote and Karthick Ramakrishnan of the University of California, Riverside to look into what’s driving AAPI voters to the polls.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Turnout typically determines results in any given election year. And, if recent trends hold, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders could sway this year's midterms more than ever before.

    White House correspondent Laura Barrón-López looks into what's driving these AAPI voters to the polls.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the country. Nearly 23 million Americans are estimated to be AAPI. And their votes played an outsized role in the 2020 election in swing states like Georgia.

    Joining me to discuss are Christine Chen, executive director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, and Karthick Ramakrishnan, a public policy professor at the University of California, Riverside.

    Karthick, I want to start with you.

    In addition to Georgia, where could AAPI voters have the biggest impact this cycle?

    Karthick Ramakrishnan, University of California, Riverside: There are several Senate races, including in Nevada and North Carolina.

    And virtually any state where there is — where the margin of victory is 2 percent or smaller, chances are, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community will play a decisive role. Now, looking beyond the Senate, there are several House races, including in Orange County in Southern California and several other districts through the South and in the Northeast, that have significant Asian American and Pacific Islander populations, and that are that as battleground races.

    So, those are all the places where we can expect the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to play an important role this year.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Christine, the 2022 Asian American Voter Survey shows that AAPI voters prefer Democratic control of Congress 54 percent to 27 percent. But within that, Vietnamese voters favor Republicans 40 percent to 35 percent.

    This clearly gets at, the AAPI vote is diverse, and it's very big. Can you explain what is drawing Vietnamese voters to Republicans?

    Christine Chen, Executive Director, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote: Well, traditionally, the Republican community has really appealed to especially the first-generation immigrants in the Vietnamese community about being good about anti-communism.

    And so it was really that early engagement that really has developed their relationship with the Vietnamese community. But what we have also seen in the Asian American Voter Survey for this year is that a larger segment of the Vietnamese population, although they are still heavily Republicans, are starting to identify as independents.

    So I think that's actually the start of where you see second-generation and younger Vietnamese American voters are becoming of age and also registering and voting.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Karthick, what issues are motivating AAPI voters to turn out next week?

  • Karthick Ramakrishnan:

    Well, there are several issues that are standard issues, not only with respect to Asian American and Pacific Islander voters, but voters more generally.

    The economy is usually one of the top two issues in any year that we have done serving of these populations. That's true this year as well. What was interesting in our survey was that health care emerged as a top issue. We did not ask specifically about abortion. We designed the survey before the Dobbs decision.

    Other surveys, including from the Pew Research Center, shows that Asian American voters tend to be the most supportive in terms of abortion rights. So that's going to be an issue. The economy's going to be an issue. But there are also issues like gun control and environmental protection that are among the top five.

    Republicans don't enjoy a big advantage among Asian American voters when it comes to the economy when it comes to crime, unlike the general electorate.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    The rise of Asian American hate in the U.S. has grown over the last five years.

    In the Asian American survey that I referred to earlier,73 percent of Asian Americans worry about experiencing hate crimes, harassment and discrimination at least sometimes; 24 percent said they worry about it — quote — "very often."

    So, Karthick, how do you think that that is influencing the vote this election cycle?

  • Karthick Ramakrishnan:

    Well, what we find is that, among those who are very worried about hate incidents and hate crimes, they have a stronger support for the Democratic Party.

    So what that suggests is that this is a top-of-mind issue in so many Asian American communities, and in ways that benefit the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. Now, what's interesting is that some Republican candidates are trying to frame it as about crime to try to gain an upper hand among Asian American voters on that issue.

    But as long as Asian Americans perceive these as acts of discrimination and as acts of hate, chances are that the Democratic Party is more likely to benefit from it.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Christine, we saw that, since 2018, there have been — there has been more attention paid to AAPI voters and their influence in the electorate.

    Can you explain how the two parties are improving or not improving their outreach?

  • Christine Chen:

    We have been researching this since the 2012 Asian American Voter Survey.

    And, unfortunately, it really has not changed that much. Still, over 50 percent of the community are not being contacted by the Democrats or the Republicans. We know that they are chipping away and actually improving bit by bit every cycle.

    This particular cycle, we are also seeing that there are more Asian American and Pacific Islander organizers that are being hired by both parties. There are more investments in terms of direct mail and banking and canvassing, as well as engagement with the ethnic press.

    But this also demonstrates, when you look at how many the Asian American Pacific Islander electorate identifies with the political parties, it really ranges from like 20 percent to all — as high as 43 percent for the Chinese American community.

    So what that tells me is that the parties are not doing enough to actually educate our community and do long-term engagement with our community past the elections.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Karthick, what do we know so far about youth voter turnout among AAPI voters?

  • Karthick Ramakrishnan:

    Well, what we saw in 2018 was a record increase in voter turnout among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and particularly so among younger voters, those aged 18 to 35.

    These tend to be the most progressive voters on a range of issues. So, a big question will be, will that youth turnout match what we saw in 2018? On the one hand, you have issues like abortion, reproductive rights, student debt that might motivate them to vote, but inflation and these economic difficulties might demobilize some of those voters as well.

    So that's going to be an important question in this election in terms of what youth turnout will look like, because that's going to have an impact in terms of what the overall level of Democratic vs. Republican support will look like in this election.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Karthick Ramakrishnan and Christine Chen, thank you so much for your time.

  • Christine Chen:

    Thank you.

  • Karthick Ramakrishnan:

    Thank you for having us.

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