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Even as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders celebrated Heritage Month throughout the month of May, we received reminders that AAPIs are under siege by President Donald Trump’s agenda.
Across America, 1.5 million undocumented Asian immigrants, many in mixed-immigration status families, fear the prospect of mass deportation. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would yank away health insurance from nearly 2 million AAPIs who were finally able to afford quality health care thanks to the law. And the same xenophobic sentiment behind Trump’s Muslim ban continues to fuel discrimination, harassment, and hate violence against AAPI communities — including the recent attacks on a Portland train, the murder of an Indian engineer in a Kansas bar, the shooting of a Sikh American in Washington, and a 600-percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Like many Americans, our communities came to this country in search of greater opportunity, prosperity, and justice. We seek, and deserve, an America that affirms the civil rights of all people of faith, including Muslim-Americans; that recognizes that immigrants are a source of strength and vitality; and that provides equal opportunity to pursue the American Dream.
Yet when it comes to voting for change at the ballot box, our communities rarely show up. Despite being the fastest growing demographic group in America, fewer than half of eligible AAPIs turned out to vote in 2016. Far too often, candidates and campaigns don’t engage and mobilize our communities. According to the National Asian American Survey, only 29 percent of Asian Americans reported that a political party directly contacted them during the 2016 campaign cycle, far lower than 44 percent of white Americans who reported direct contact.
These low engagement and turnout numbers are unacceptable given what’s at stake, particularly since AAPIs largely tend to vote for progressive values and Democratic candidates who will protect our communities during this time of crisis. On issues from college affordability to health care to education, AAPIs support progressive policies. And according to an exit poll by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), AAPI voters backed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over Trump by a 4:1 margin, 79 percen to 18 percent.
That’s why we need the AAPI Victory Fund, an organization building a sustained national effort to identify, engage, and mobilize AAPI voters to support progressive candidates and causes. During the 2016 election cycle, we invested in new data modeling efforts to identify an additional 4 million AAPI voters across the country — voters to whom candidates can now engage in direct, culturally and language-appropriate communications. We built a national donor network and raised more than any AAPI super PAC in history. And we combined traditional field efforts with a strong digital program in two swing states with large AAPI populations — North Carolina and Nevada — and saw significant increases in AAPI turnout, including a staggering 174-percent increase in North Carolina’s Research Triangle that likely led to the tight-margin victory of the Democratic governor, attorney general, and Supreme Court candidates in key N.C. statewide races.
This year, we will continue to refine our strategy ahead of the 2018 midterms during 2017 statewide and state legislative elections in Virginia and New Jersey; in a Washington state Senate race that could flip control of the state legislature to Democrats; and in special elections such as the upcoming runoff in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, where we have been hosting community events and conducting voter contact to target the 10 percent of district voters who are members of the AAPI community.
In these races and elsewhere, AAPI engagement and turnout can mean the difference between electing progressive candidates who will push back against Trump’s regressive policies — or losing. Indeed, mobilizing Asian-American voters may represent the biggest return on political investment for progressives and Democrats eager to chart the path back to power.
Resistance begins at the ballot box — and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have too much at stake to stay silent. Working together, we can identify, engage, and turn out our voters to fight back and defend the values that have made our communities and our country great. Victory is within our grasp — if we seize the moment.
Varun Nikore is the president of the AAPI Victory Fund, the first super PAC dedicated to mobilizing Asian American and Pacific Islander voters.
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