HomePoliticsWill Asian American voters be more than an afterthought in 2024?

Will Asian American voters be more than an afterthought in 2024?

By Lawrence Watanabe

With the 2024 presidential election fast approaching, organizations and campaigners are gearing up for a sure-to-be intense cycle through the formation of voting advocacy events.

The Ronin X panel, hosted at the Citizen Hotel in Sacramento on Monday, April 22 by Bill Wong, a political consultant and co-founder of the Ronin Project, aimed to both highlight the importance of the AAPI voter base and preview strategies used to appeal to AAPI voters in the November election.

The Ronin Project is an AAPI-based political action committee (PAC), founded in 2021 “in response to the current unchecked epidemic of anti-Asian hate crimes”, according to its website. The PAC aims to “stand up against AAPI hate by supporting political action and funding efforts that increase AAPI political power.”

One name was frequently brought up during the panel was Andy Kim. The first-ever Asian American Congressional representative from New Jersey, Kim was elected to his seat following an extremely close race against the incumbent Republican, Tom MacArthur. In September 2023, just one day after incumbent New Jersey senator Robert Menendez was indicted following charges of bribery, Kim announced his intention to run for the seat.

“The decision to run against Senator Menendez was one of the biggest and toughest decisions of my life,” said Kim through his campaign website. “The reason I stepped up is that I’m tired of constantly watching our politics fail our nation.” 

Trip Yang, a political strategist and founder of Trip Yang Strategies, described that Kim’s reputation allowed advertisements and campaign marketing to flow easier. Compared to other politicians, Kim’s campaign and background were “based on community work and genuine support rather than seeming competent,” said Yang. He detailed that historically, it was difficult for AAPI political candidates to receive endorsement from establishment Democrats. Wong noted that Kim’s campaign broke stereotypes related to AAPI political candidates and the treatment of their campaigns and races like “applying to Harvard Law.”

In previous election cycles, the main quality voters wanted from a candidate was competence, an aura of understanding how to do the job, said Roshni Nedungadi. Nedungadi, the Founder & Chief Research Officer of HIT Strategies, noted that this has shifted to the point where voters desire connection from their political candidates, a sense of relatability to the general population. She believed that while this shift was fully set into motion with the 2016 presidential election, it had been seen in prior elections, although at a much smaller scale. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was unable to show a sense of understanding of how the population lived (her reaction to seeing a New York City apartment during her campaign went viral as a result). As a result of this, some people felt drawn to Trump when they might not have otherwise been.

Boo Yuen, executive vice president and co-founder of the Adwell Group, emphasized that building a level of support and representation is important not just in the political side of a campaign, but also the business side. Doing this can allow for the voter base to feel more connected and heard by candidates. 

Leading up to the 2024 election cycle, President Biden has shown an early commitment to in-language marketing campaigns, starting as soon as a year before the election, leading Courtni Pugh, a partner at Hilltop Public Solutions, to hope it ends the “otherization” of the AAPI voter base. Currently, the AAPI voter base receives lesser amounts of campaign fundraising when compared to other ethnic groups of voters and are generally ignored by the bulk of the political world. AAPI voters have historically been viewed as an afterthought; Cheryl Hori highlighted an experience working in the 2016 election cycle, when a major super PAC opted not to spend any money outreaching to the AAPI voter base, despite having over $200 million in budget.

Larry Huynh recognized the line between productive and reductive representation, an important distinction for campaign strategists to make. The founder of Trilogy Interactive, he noted the example that in-language advertising is not equivalent to cultural competence and can lead to some alienation of certain parts of the voter base. While in-language marketing can be a useful tactic for creating a connection between candidates and the voters they aim to reach, it is not inherently productive, and some extra considerations need to be taken into account.

Kevin Liao of the AAPI Victory Fund noted that President Biden’s age could be a cause for concern. These concerns can also be seen within AAPI communities, and Liao noted that it will be important to try to figure out ways to reframe these concerns into optimism. In many Asian cultures, elders and people of older ages are celebrated and revered for their advanced knowledge and understanding of the world; Liao emphasized the importance of harnessing this cultural acceptance of elders into campaigning for the president’s reelection.

Regardless of who wins the election this November, the Ronin Project and other AAPI-centric campaigning organizations recognize that the fight towards AAPI equality and respect in the political sphere is fierce and ongoing.

“We’re thinking a lot about the top of the ticket, but there’s a lot of good Asian candidates down the ballot, and also candidates who are going to be good allies to Asian communities down the ballot who we cannot forget.” said Yuen. “We need to get across the finish line regardless of who’s our president after this year.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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