A new group plans to spend millions of dollars to register and turn out Asian American voters in a handful of U.S. swing states, a bid to give the relatively small but fast-growing group outsized influence in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
If successful, the effort could give voice to a portion of the electorate that has traditionally leaned Democratic but has voted in lower numbers than other minority groups and been largely ignored by candidates in past presidential elections.
The AAPI Victory Fund plan to spend $2 million to register at least 50,000 voters in places like Nevada, Virginia and North Carolina before election day – states where it says the number of eligible Asian American voters exceeds the margin of victory in the 2012 presidential poll.
“If this community were to turn out more, it can actually swing the election,” said Dilawar Syed, the co-founder and vice chairman of the Super PAC – a political action committee that can raise unlimited funds for a political goal but cannot coordinate with candidates.
The group, launched in January, is non-partisan. But Asian Americans have tended to vote Democratic, meaning the efforts are more likely to benefit Hillary Clinton, who is close to clinching her party’s nomination, in a general election against a Republican.
The group has so far seen more than 3,500 new voters registered among people who received its first round of 73,371 mailers, sent out in late March. It plans another round of mailers in June and perhaps another in September.
Other target states include Colorado, Ohio and Florida, according to the group.
There are about 19.4 million Asians in the United States, making up about 5.6 percent of the U.S. population, according to U.S. Census data. African Americans, by comparison, make up just over 13 percent of the population and have been a powerful force in the presidential primaries, helping Clinton to beat Sanders in southern states.
But Asian Americans are also now the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, said Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center. “By 2060, Asians will surpass blacks in terms of population numbers,” he said.
At the moment, Asian Americans are registered at lower rates than many other groups – around 50 percent in the 2014 election, compared with 63 percent for blacks and 66 percent for whites.
Part of the reason for that could be that Asians and Pacific Islanders – people of a number of ethnicities and national origins – have been largely overlooked in past elections.
Shekar Narasimhan, the fund’s chairman and founder, said he expects contact from the group can turn that around. “Nobody’s asked you anything before, and suddenly you get a piece of mail saying you are relevant,” he said.
YOU ARE RELEVANT
The AAPI Victory Fund is not the only group looking to register and turn out Asians at the polls. The nonprofit APIAVote, for example, does similar work.
But its efforts are aimed broadly, looking less to influence specific swing states than to raise Asian American voter engagement across the country.
Both political parties, and some presidential candidates’ campaigns, have also looked to draw those voters in.
“I want more Asian Americans of all ethnicities to be part of our political process,” said Jason Chung, the Republican National Committee’s director of Asian Pacific American engagement. He declined to share the party’s targets for those voters but noted the importance of the kinds of states the AAPI Victory Fund is focusing on.
The Clinton campaign said it has worked on voter turnout among Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The candidate did numerous stops in Asian neighborhoods before her recent win in New York’s primary, including going for bubble tea in Flushing, an Asian neighborhood in New York City.
Clinton was the only presidential candidate scheduled to appear at a reception next week held by an Asian American and Pacific Islander group in Washington, D.C.
The campaigns of Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republicans Ted Cruz and Donald Trump did not respond to requests for comment Niraj Antani, a member of the Ohio House of Representatives who supports Republican candidate John Kasich, the state’s governor, said Kasich values diversity.
The AAPI Victory Fund has not endorsed any candidate in the presidential race, but Narasimhan, the fund’s chairman, said it plans to later this year. A number of its leaders are donors and fundraisers within Democratic circles.
Narasimhan, who is personally backing Clinton in the election, said the fund would, closer to the election, partner with various Asian American and Pacific Islander community groups to make sure those newly registered voters go to the polls.
(Reporting by Luciana Lopez; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Cynthia Osterman)