WASHINGTON — After an unprecedented and largely overlooked surge of Asian American and Pacific Islander voters in the 2020 election, one group is looking to leverage their newfound political muscle with some star power.
Hillary Clinton will headline a fundraiser next Wednesday expected to bring in a seven-figure sum for the AAPI Victory Alliance following its annual summit, officials with the group exclusively told McClatchy.
The event is designed to not only bank resources, but to bolster recognition for the AAPI community among Democrats after their unexpected rise in voter turnout during last year’s presidential election.
While the total turnout for all other racial groups combined increased by 12% last November, the number of ballots cast by the often-overlooked AAPI constituency exploded by 47%, according to TargetSmart, a progressive data firm.
“This does not happen very often in one’s lifetime,” said Varun Nikore, who runs the AAPI Victory Fund, a progressive political action committee that is a sister of the AAPI Victory Alliance. “I don’t think there’s much recognition nationally in many progressive spaces how we delivered this election to Joe Biden and the Democrats.”
Even though AAPI voters only comprise about 4% of the electorate, they are becoming a critical component of the Democratic coalition as they continue to grow. Biden won roughly 67% of the AAPI vote in 2020, according to the Democratic analytics firm Catalist, similar to the share Clinton and Barack Obama captured in the previous two elections.
Leaders in the AAPI community are now seeking the same kind of attention and investment that Democratic operatives usually dedicate to other key demographic groups, such as suburban women, Hispanics and African Americans.
“Few have engaged in a discussion of how to ensure the AAPI turnout surge becomes a sustained level of high voter engagement rather than a single moment in time,” Tom Bonier, the CEO of TargetSmart, recently wrote. “While we don’t have confidence in the early post-election analyses suggesting a significant swing towards [former President Donald] Trump among AAPI voters, we believe that there is still the potential for Democrats to improve their performance.”
Nikore said Clinton was sought out for their first major post-election fundraiser because of her attention to the AAPI community when other political figures would regularly ignore it. It also helps that Clinton, the former Democratic presidential nominee and secretary of state, remains one of the most famous women in the world. TV personality Lisa Ling and former U.S. ambassador to India Richard Verma will also headline the AAPI Victory Alliance fundraiser.
AAPI Victory raised only about $1 million in 2020, but officials with the group believe they could boost turnout among their voters even more significantly with more resources. The group is now seeking to raise $10 million for the 2024 election cycle.
The group has also invited the eight Democratic U.S. Senators of color to speak during its two-hour summit to foster unity between the Black and Latino coalitions. Speaker confirmations are still pending.
“As much as we’re reaching new heights with our own community, we can’t achieve everything we want to achieve if we’re just doing it as our own community,” Nikore said. “We need allies, we need partners.”
They also need more data to better reach voters. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are researched and polled less frequently than other minority groups. Even highly respected pollsters often don’t categorize AAPI voters in their own subgroup. And different pockets of AAPI voters can also have very different political profiles.
A slide deck to be presented at the summit that was shared in advance with McClatchy outlined AAPI Victory Fund’s goals for the next three years. They include conducting in-language testing and metrics of AAPI voters in Virginia’s local elections this year, a focus on Texas in the 2022 midterm elections, and a 2023 presidential forum leading to an endorsement of a 2024 White House candidate. The group endorsed Biden in January 2020, becoming one of the earliest national groups to formally back his campaign.
But despite their recent gains, the group is also warning Democrats against complacency.
“We will lose these voters unless we continue engaging them. This needs to be both dollars and focus and intention,” one slide from the presentation reads. “This requires the progressive movement, the Democratic Party and donors fund this work.”
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