While highlighting wins they notched and influential roles they played for Democrats in 2022, leaders of Asian American and Pacific Islander groups say the party faces competition for what has been a reliable voting bloc.
“Our vote can and does make a difference,” Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., said at a panel discussion Wednesday on the Asian American Pacific Islander vote during the midterm elections.
In 2022, the AAPI community increased its voter turnout by more than 20 percent overall, and by more than 33 percent in key battleground states, Meng said. “Our community has delivered crucial wins for the Democratic Party,” she said.
“But we often have to remind our colleagues in Congress, even on our side of the aisle, that we cannot take our vote for granted,” Meng said. “We have a lot of work and a lot of room for improvement … especially because Republicans are making serious plays for our community.”
Asian American and Pacific Islanders are the nation’s fastest growing community of color: The number of registered voters grew from 5.5 million in 2008 to 9.5 million in 2020, said Michael Frias, CEO of Catalist, a political research firm.
During that same span, the number of voting age Asian American and Pacific Islanders grew by 3.5 million people. “That’s massive,” Frias said.
Those voters represent a diverse swath of the American population, from the Hmong in Minnesota to Chinese in New York, from Filipinos in California to South Asians in Michigan, and many others.
Each has its own culture, religious tradition and language, but overall, they tend to vote Democratic, said pollster Frederick S. Yang, CEO of Hart Research Associates. Several months before the midterm elections, the firm polled 1,955 AAPI voters in battleground states and in California and found 50 percent self-identified as Democrats.
Meng noted that ASPIRE PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus, successfully defended six Frontline program members. But one disappointment was the loss by California Democrat Jay Chen. A U.S. Naval reservist and a Taiwanese American, Chen was unable to unseat Republican Rep. Michelle Steel, a Korean American who has held the Orange County-based seat since 2021.
Chen, who participated in the forum, said he was surprised by the attacks that attempted to link him to the Chinese Communist Party. In a district where distrust of communism ran deep, such attacks amounted to a “red scare,” Chen said.
“This is a district that has a very high Vietnamese American population, so red-baiting, playing off trauma in a community, was part of their playbook,” Chen said of supporters of his Republican opponent.
To build a winning coalition, Asian American candidates and activists need to form alliances with Latino and Black Democrats, Chen said. “Yes, we have to reach out and make sure Asian Americans are voting, but especially in California … we cannot ignore all the other constituencies,” he said.
Rep. Judy Chu of California, who leads the congressional caucus, said Asian American and Pacific Islanders can make a difference in a close campaign.
“We saw a record number of AAPI candidates and that number is only going to grow,” she said.