Virginia Elections Underscore “Missed Opportunity” By Not Investing in Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities

by | Dec 18, 2017 | Uncategorized

Virginia Elections Underscore “Missed Opportunity” By Not Investing in Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities

AAPI votes would have likely led to three additional House of Delegate seats

WASHINGTON—While Democrats swept the Virginia elections in 2017, many Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) votes were left unclaimed, which would have made the difference in several House of Delegate seats and likely led to a flipping that chamber. The Democrats have not controlled the House of Delegates since 1999, when they had controlled it for over a century.

In polling data released by GBA Strategies, AAPI’s turnout numbers at 78 percent for Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam were down from 81 percent as compared to numbers for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election. However, Latino’s turnout at 85 percent and African American’s at 90 percent for Northam represented double digit increases over Clinton’s numbers in 2016. Fourteen percent of AAPIs decided not to vote in 2017 with the leading reason as “too busy.”

“We are pleased that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continued the trend to vote for progressive Democratic candidates, especially in a lower turnout election,” said Shekar Narasimhan, chair of the AAPI Victory Fund. “However, it is disappointing that investments in voter programs for AAPIs in the critical last 60 days before the election and throughout the campaign were low in comparison to other communities of color. Had resources been made available, AAPI turnout would have increased commensurate to the gains the Democrats enjoyed with the Latino and African American communities.”

Had AAPI vote-share increased comparably with other minority voters, Democrats likely would have captured an additional three House of Delegates seats that were won by Republican candidates in razor-thin margins on election night.

Asian American and Pacific Islanders, when polled, shared common priorities with other communities of color with economy and jobs (38 percent), healthcare (34 percent), and schools and college (27 percent) as the leading issues in the gubernatorial election.

“It is likely that the primary reason why Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders numbers were flat compared to last year is the lack of the proper allocation of resources toward AAPI voter contact and turnout, and AAPI ethnic media” said Bel Leong-Hong, co-founder and vice chair of the AAPI Victory Fund. “With more than $100 million spent on Virginia elections in 2017, if a small fraction of that had been allocated toward AAPI voter outreach, rather than TV ads, more AAPI votes would have been solidified in the Democratic column.”

“As our community continues to grow, it is essential that we invest in that growth,” said Dr. Tung Nguyen, chair of AAPI Progressive Action. “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders must be included equally in voter outreach and mobilization, as well as in the development of the progressive agenda. As Republicans use racial and divisive rhetoric to motivate their base, it is important that we reach every last AAPI voter.”

“I am disappointed that the coordinated campaign did not incorporate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders into its turnout strategy from the beginning. While our numbers are small, the potential to capture 80 percent of the vote or higher for Democrats would have been a smart political investment of resources. With elections being decided by the slimmest margins, traditional metric-derived campaign models don’t work. We will only see change when campaigns recognize capturing smaller voting blocs are the key to success,” said Nguyen.

Looking toward the 2018 mid-term elections, the Virginia gubernatorial and House of Delegates races can serve as a roadmap for successfully outreaching to communities of color in nationwide and highlights the importance of investing in those communities early.


Empowering the 21 million-strong Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to be the margin of victory, the AAPI Victory Fund – the first Super PAC of its kind – is focused on mobilizing AAPI eligible voters and moving them to the ballot box.

AAPI Progressive Action works to empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for a strong and diverse America.